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Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (Diaz) - Book Reviews

Book Reviews
Junot Diaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a wondrous, not-so-brief first novel that is so original it can only be described as Mario Vargas Llosa meets "Star Trek" meets David Foster Wallace meets Kanye West. It is funny, street-smart and keenly observed, and it unfolds from a comic portrait of a second-generation Dominican geek into a harrowing meditation on public and private history and the burdens of familial history. An extraordinarily vibrant book that's fueled by adrenaline-powered prose, it's confidently steered through several decades of history by a madcap, magpie voice that's equally at home talking about Tolkien and Trujillo, anime movies and ancient Dominican curses, sexual shenanigans at Rutgers University and secret police raids in Santo Domingo…It is Mr. Diaz's achievement in this galvanic novel that he's fashioned both a big picture window that opens out on the sorrows of Dominican history, and a small, intimate window that reveals one family's life and loves. In doing so, he's written a book that decisively establishes him as one of contemporary fiction's most distinctive and irresistible new voices.
Michiko Kakutani - New York Times


In The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Diaz, the author of a book of sexy, diamond-sharp stories called Drown, shows impressive high-low dexterity, flashing his geek credentials, his street wisdom and his literary learning with equal panache.... Diaz's novel also has a wild, capacious spirit, making it feel much larger than it is. Within its relatively compact span, [it] contains an unruly multitude of styles and genres. The tale of Oscar's coming-of-age is in some ways the book's thinnest layer, a young-adult melodrama draped over a multigenerational immigrant family chronicle that dabbles in tropical magic realism, punk-rock feminism, hip-hop machismo, post-postmodern pyrotechnics and enough polymorphous multiculturalism to fill up an Introduction to Cultural Studies syllabus. Holding all this together—just barely, but in the end effectively—is a voice that is profane, lyrical, learned and tireless, a riot of accents and idioms coexisting within a single personality.
A.O. Scott - New York Times Book Review


Weirdly wonderful …Oscar clearly is not intended to function as a hero in the classical sense. Is he meant primarily to symbolize the tangled significance of desire, exile and homecoming? Or is he a 307-lb. warning that only slim guys get the girls? Are we to wring from his ample flesh more of that anguished diaspora stuff? Could be, but I find sufficient meaning in the sheer joy of absorbing Diaz's sentences, each rolled out with all the nerdy, wordy flair of an audacious imagination and a vocabulary to match…Diaz pulls it off with...eggheaded urban eloquence.... Geek swagger, baby. Get used to it.
Jabari Asim - Washington Post


Díaz's remarkable debut novel tells the story of a lonely outsider with zest rather than pathos. Oscar grows up in a Dominican neighborhood in Paterson, NJ, as an overweight, homely lover of sf and fantasy. Reading such books and trying to emulate them in his own writing provide Oscar's only pleasure. What he really wants is love, but his romantic overtures are constantly rejected. The author balances Oscar's story with glances at the history of the Dominican Republic, focusing on the Rafael Trujillo dictatorship and its effect on Oscar's family. Díaz masterfully shifts between Oscar and his sister, mother, and grandfather to give this intimate character study an epic scale, showing that an individual life is the product of family history. Jonathan Davis's sensitive reading captures the romantic quest of the hero and the tragedy of life under Trujillo, and Staci Snell ably reads the alternating chapters dealing with Oscar's sister and mother. Also included is Drown, a collection of stories by Díaz. Highly recommended for all collections.
Michael Adams - Library Journal


A rich, impassioned vision of the Dominican Republic and its diaspora, filtered through the destiny of a single family. After a noted debut volume of short stories (Drown, 1996), Diaz pens a first novel that bursts alive in an ironic, confiding, exuberant voice. Its wider focus is an indictment of the terrible Trujillo regime and its aftermath, but the approach is oblique, traced backwards via the children (Oscar and Lola) of a larger-than-life but ruined Dominican matriarch, Beli. In earthy, streetwise, Spanish-interlaced prose, Diaz links overweight, nerdy fantasist Oscar, his combative, majestic sister and their once Amazonian mother to the island of their ancestry. There, an aunt, La Inca, with strange, possibly supernatural powers, heals and saves Beli after her involvement with one of Trujillo's minor henchman, who was married to the dictator's sister. Beli, at age14, had naively hoped this affair would lead to marriage and family, but instead her pregnancy incurred a near-fatal beating, after which she fled to New Jersey to a life of drudgery, single parenting and illness. By placing sad, lovelorn, virginal Oscar at the book's heart, Diaz softens the horrors visited on his antecedents, which began when Trujillo cast his predatory eye on wealthy Abelard Cabral's beautiful daughter. Was the heap of catastrophes that ensued fuku (accursed fate), Diaz asks repeatedly, and can there be counter-balancing zafa (blessing)? The story comes full circle with Oscar's death in Santo Domingo's fateful cornfields, himself the victim of a post-Trujillo petty tyrant, but it's redeemed by the power of love. Despite a less sure-footed conclusion, Diaz's reverse family saga, crossed with withering political satire, makes for a compelling, sex-fueled, 21st-century tragi-comedy with a magical twist.
Kirkus Reviews




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