Today we are going to talk about June’s book of the month, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. But first, let’s check out this book and see what it is all about.
This is the long-awaited first novel from one of the most original and memorable writers working today.
Things have never been easy for Oscar, a sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd, a New Jersey romantic who dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien and, most of all, of finding love. But he may never get what he wants, thanks to the fukú — the ancient curse that has haunted Oscar’s family for generations, dooming them to prison, torture, tragic accidents, and, above all, ill-starred love. Oscar, still dreaming of his first kiss, is only its most recent victim – until the fateful summer that he decides to be its last.
With dazzling energy and insight, Junot Díaz immerses us in the uproarious lives of our hero Oscar, his runaway sister Lola, and their ferocious beauty-queen mother Belicia, and in the epic journey from Santo Domingo to Washington Heights to New Jersey’s Bergenline and back again. Rendered with uncommon warmth and humor, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao presents an astonishing vision of the contemporary American experience and the endless human capacity to persevere – and to risk it all – in the name of love.
A true literary triumph, this novel confirms Junot Díaz as one of the best and most exciting writers of our time
Questions to think about and/or answer:
- Throughout the novel, Spanish words and phrases appear unaccompanied by their English translations. What is the effect of this seamless blending of Spanish and English? How would the novel have been different if Díaz had stopped to provide English translations at every turn? Why does Díaz not italicize the Spanish words (the way foreign words are usually italicized in English-language text)?
- The book centers on the story of Oscar and his family—and yet the majority of the book is narrated by Yunior, who is not part of the family, and only plays a relatively minor role in the events of the story. Yunior even calls himself “The Watcher,” underscoring his outsider status in the story. What is the effect of having a relative outsider tell the story of Oscar and his family, rather than having someone in the family tell it? And why do you think Díaz waits for so long at the beginning of the book to reveal who the narrator is?
- Díaz, in the voice of the narrator, often employs footnotes to explain the history or context of a certain passage or sentence in the main text. Why do you think he chose to convey historical facts and anecdotes in footnote form? How would the novel have read differently if the content of the footnotes had been integrated into the main text? What if the footnotes (and the information in them) had been eliminated altogether?
- While Oscar’s story is central to the novel, the book is not told in his voice, and there are many chapters in which Oscar does not figure at all, and others in which he only plays a fairly minor role. Who do you consider the true protagonist of the novel? Oscar? Yunior? Belicia? The entire de Leon and Cabral family? The fukú?
- Oscar is very far from the traditional model of a “hero.” Other characters in the book are more traditionally heroic, making bold decisions on behalf of others to protect them—for instance, La Inca rescuing young Belicia, or Abelard trying to protect his daughters. In the end, do you think Oscar is heroic or foolish? And are those other characters—La Inca, Abelard—more or less heroic than Oscar?
- During the course of the book, many of the characters try to teach Oscar many things—especially Yunior, who tries to teach him how to lose weight, how to attract women, how to behave in social situations. Do any characters not try to teach Oscar anything, and just accept him as who he is? How much does Oscar actually learn from anyone? And in the end, what does Oscar teach Yunior, and the other characters if anything? (Questions from Penguin)
“Funny, street-smart and keenly observed…An extraordinarily vibrant book that’s fueled by adrenaline-powered prose…A book that decisively establishes [Díaz] as one of contemporary fiction’s most distinctive and irresistible new voices.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“Terrific…Narrated in high-energy Spanglish, the book is packed with wide-ranging cultural references—to Dune, Julia Alvarez, The Sound of Music—as well as erudite and hilarious footnotes on Caribbean history. It is a joy to read, and every bit as exhilarating to reread.” —Jennifer Reese, Entertainment Weekly
Mocha Girls Speak
Ahhh! This was a story! A REAL story! At the very base this book is about how the main character, Oscar, does not get laid, and his untimely death. But everything that’s in between is so so wonderful! Not wonderful in that great things happen- actually, very bad things happen- but wonderful in the storytelling of it all. Junot Diaz is a storyteller. He weaves a tale so robust and real and funny and gritty and every other thing that a good story could be. And what I like most about this author is that he talks to you in the story. He tells you that he knows what you, the reader, want to happen, but he is not going to let you have it. And you end up loving it anyway!
This book seemed to lack a complete train of thought due to it trying to cram more than one theme between it’s pages.
The author seemed to have the attention span of a gnat and the idea that everyone who reads his work speaks fluent Spanish. We do not. I did not enjoy this book and only finished it because it was suggested by a reading group and I hate not finishing books. But I did not enjoy it. It was all over the place and lacked direction. In an effort to seem epic, this novel only disappoints and leaves the reader wondering what just happened.
Mocha Girl Ronetta