The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
By Junot Díaz
Grade Levels: 9-12 & Adults
The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao is a book about growing up and about figuring out what kind of person you’re meant to be. In that way, it’s a typical coming-of-age story. The novel is the recipient of numerous awards after its publication in 2007, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, New York magazine’s Best Novel of the Year, and best work of fiction of that year according to Time magazine’s Lev Grossman. It draws upon the experiences of its author, MIT writing professor Junot Díaz. Díaz grew up a Dominican-American whose family left the country during the period when it was controlled by dictator Rafael Trujillo and shortly thereafter. This novel is partly an examination of the historical legacy of that dark period and partly about growing up an immigrant with conflicting senses of culture, masculinity, and identity. In the words of the author, “One of the things about being an adolescent, which I kind of drew upon a lot when writing this book, is that you always feel like you're the biggest freak in the world.”
The novel follows the eponymous Oscar Wao, a sweet but disastrously overweight, lovesick Dominican ghetto nerd. From his home in New Jersey, where he lives with his old-world mother and rebellious sister, Oscar dreams of becoming the Dominican J. R. R. Tolkien and finding love. But he may never get what he wants, thanks to the fukú - the curse that has haunted the Oscar's family for generations, dooming them to prison, torture, tragic accidents, and, above all, ill-fated love. Oscar is just its most recent victim. The story glows with warmth and dazzling energy, humor, and insight into the Dominican-American experience, and, ultimately, the endless human capacity to persevere in the face of heartbreak and loss. A true literary triumph, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao confirms Junot Díaz as one of the best and most exciting voices of our time.
The novel has a sense of magical realism and removal from everyday life that comes from its seamless interplay of imaginary future slang and foreign terms. It gives the reader a sense of being an immigrant in the novel itself, and allows you to put yourself into the shoes of Oscar, trying to find out where he fits in this strange country.