The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar – Oscar is a sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd who—from the New Jersey home he shares with his old world mother and rebellious sister—dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien and, most of all, finding love.
But Oscar may never get what he wants. Blame the fukú—a curse that has haunted Oscar’s family for generations, following them on their epic journey from Santo Domingo to the USA. Encapsulating Dominican-American history, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao opens our eyes to an astonishing vision of the contemporary American experience and explores the endless human capacity to persevere—and risk it all—in the name of love.
They say it came first from Africa, carried in the screams of the enslaved; that it was the death bane of the Tainos, uttered just as one world perished and another began; that it was a demon drawn into Creation through the nightmare door that was cracked open in the Antilles. Fukú americanus, or more colloquially, fukú—generally a curse or a doom of some kind; specifically the Curse and the Doom of the New World. Also called the fukú of the Admiral because the Admiral was both its midwife and one of its great European victims; despite “discovering” the New World the Admiral died miserable and syphilitic, hearing (dique) divine voices. In Santo Domingo, the Land He Loved Best (what Oscar, at the end, would call the Ground Zero of the New World), the Admiral’s very name has become synonymous with both kinds of fukú, little and large; to say his name aloud or even to hear it is to invite calamity on the heads of you and yours. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar
No matter what its name or provenance, it is believed that the arrival of Europeans on Hispaniola unleashed the fukú on the world, and we’ve all been in the shit ever since. Santo Domingo might be fukú’s Kilometer Zero, its port of entry, but we are all of us its children, whether we know it or not. But the fukú ain’t just ancient history, a ghost story from the past with no power to scare. In my parents’ day the fukú was real as shit, something your everyday person could believe in. Everybody knew someone who’d been eaten by a fukú, just like everybody knew somebody who worked up in the Palacio. It was in the air, you could say, though, like all the most important things on the Island, not something folks really talked about. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar
But in those elder days, fukú had it good; it even had a hypeman of sorts, a high priest, you could say. Our then dictator-for-life Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina. 1 No one knows whether Trujillo was the Curse’s servant or its master, its agent or its principal, but it was clear he and it had an understanding, that them two was tight. It was believed, even in educated circles, that anyone who plotted against Trujillo would incur a fukú most powerful, down to the seventh generation and beyond. If you even thought a bad thing about Trujillo, fuá, a hurricane would sweep your family out to sea, fuá, a boulder would fall out of a clear sky and squash you, fuá, the shrimp you ate today was the cramp that killed you tomorrow. Which explains why everyone who tried to assassinate him always got done, why those dudes who finally did buck him down all died so horrifically. And what about fucking Kennedy? He was the one who green-lighted the assassination of Trujillo in 1961, who ordered the CIA to deliver arms to the Island.The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar
Bad move, cap’n. For what Kennedy’s intelligence experts failed to tell him was what every single Dominican, from the richest jabao in Mao to the poorest güey in El Buey, from the oldest anciano sanmacorisano to the littlest carajito in San Francisco, knew: that whoever killed Trujillo, their family would suffer a fukú so dreadful it would make the one that attached itself to the Admiral jojote in comparison. You want a final conclusive answer to the Warren Commission’s question, Who killed JFK? Let me, your humble Watcher, reveal once and for all the God’s Honest Truth: It wasn’t the mob or LBJ or the ghost of Marilyn Fucking Monroe. It wasn’t aliens or the KGB or a lone gunman. It wasn’t the Hunt Brothers of Texas or Lee Harvey or the Trilateral Commission.The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar
It was Trujillo; it was the fukú. Where in coñazo do you think the so-called Curse of the Kennedys comes from? 2 How about Vietnam? Why do you think the greatest power in the world lost its first war to a Third World country like Vietnam? I mean, Negro, please. It might interest you that just as the U.S. was ramping up its involvement in Vietnam, LBJ launched an illegal invasion of the Dominican Republic (April 28, 1965). (Santo Domingo was Iraq before Iraq was Iraq.) A smashing military success for the U.S., and many of the same units and intelligence teams that took part in the “democratization” of Santo Domingo were immediately shipped off to Saigon.The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar
What do you think these soldiers, technicians, and spooks carried with them, in their rucks, in their suitcases, in their shirt pockets, on the hair inside their nostrils, caked up around their shoes? Just a little gift from my people to America, a small repayment for an unjust war. That’s right, folks. Fukú. Which is why it’s important to remember fukú doesn’t always strike like lightning. Sometimes it works patiently, drowning a nigger by degrees, like with the Admiral or the U.S. in paddies outside of Saigon. Sometimes it’s slow and sometimes it’s fast. It’s doom-ish in that way, makes it harder to put a finger on, to brace yourself against. But be assured: like Darkseid’s Omega Effect, like Morgoth’s bane, 3 no matter how many turns and digressions this shit might take, it always—and I mean always—gets its man.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar – Review
“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
“Díaz finds a miraculous balance. He cuts his barn-burning comic-book plots (escape, ruin, redemption) with honest, messy realism, and his narrator speaks in a dazzling hash of Spanish, English, slang, literary flourishes, and pure virginal dorkiness.” —New York Magazine
“Genius. . . a story of the American experience that is giddily glorious and hauntingly horrific. And what a voice Yunior has. His narration is a triumph of style and wit, moving along Oscar de Leon’s story with cracking, down-low humor, and at times expertly stunning us with heart-stabbing sentences. That Díaz’s novel is also full of ideas, that [the narrator’s] brilliant talking rivals the monologues of Roth’s Zuckerman—in short, that what he has produced is a kick-ass (and truly, that is just the word for it) work of modern fiction—all make The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao something exceedingly rare: a book in which a new America can recognize itself, but so can everyone else.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“Astoundingly great. . . Díaz has written. . . a mixture of straight-up English, Dominican Spanish, and hieratic nerdspeak crowded with references to Tolkien, DC Comics, role-playing games, and classic science fiction. . . In lesser hands Oscar Wao would merely have been the saddest book of the year. With Díaz on the mike, it’s also the funniest.” —Time
“Superb, deliciously casual and vibrant, shot through with wit and insight. The great achievement of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is Díaz’s ability to balance an intimate multigenerational story of familial tragedy. . . The past and present remain equally in focus, equally immediate, and Díaz’s acrobatic prose toggles artfully between realities, keeping us enthralled with all.” —The Boston Globe
“Panoramic and yet achingly personal. It’s impossible to categorize, which is a good thing. There’s the epic novel, the domestic novel, the social novel, the historical novel, and the ‘language’ novel. People talk about the Great American Novel and the immigrant novel. Pretty reductive. Díaz’s novel is a hell of a book. It doesn’t care about categories. It’s densely populated; it’s obsessed with language. It’s Dominican and American, not about immigration but diaspora, in which one family’s dramas are entwined with a nation’s, not about history as information but as dark-force destroyer. Really, it’s a love novel. . . His dazzling wordplay is impressive. But by the end, it is his tenderness and loyalty and melancholy that breaks the heart. That is wondrous in itself.” —Los Angeles Times
“Díaz’s writing is unruly, manic, seductive. . . In Díaz’s landscape we are all the same, victims of a history and a present that doesn’t just bleed together but stew. Often in hilarity. Mostly in heartbreak.” —Esquire
“The Dominican Republic [Díaz] portrays in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a wild, beautiful, dangerous, and contradictory place, both hopelessly impoverished and impossibly rich. Not so different, perhaps, from anyone else’s ancestral homeland, but Díaz’s weirdly wonderful novel illustrates the island’s uniquely powerful hold on Dominicans wherever they may wander. Díaz made us wait eleven years for this first novel and boom!—it’s over just like that. It’s not a bad gambit, to always leave your audience wanting more. So brief and wondrous, this life of Oscar. Wow.” —The Washington Post Book World
“Terrific. . . High-energy. . . It is a joy to read, and every bit as exhilarating to reread.” —Entertainment Weekly
“Now that Díaz’s second book, a novel called The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, has finally arrived, younger writers will find that the bar. And some older writers—we know who we are—might want to think about stepping up their game. Oscar Wao shows a novelist engaged with the culture, high and low, and its polyglot language. If Donald Barthelme had lived to read Díaz, he surely would have been delighted to discover an intellectual and linguistic omnivore who could have taught even him a move or two.” —Newsweek
“Few books require a ‘highly flammable’ warning, but The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Díaz’s long-awaited first novel, will burn its way into your heart and sizzle your senses. Díaz’s novel is drenched in the heated rhythms of the real world as much as it is laced with magical realism and classic fantasy stories.” —USA Today
“Dark and exuberant. . . this fierce, funny, tragic book is just what a reader would have hoped for in a novel by Junot Díaz.” —Publishers Weekly
About the Author
Junot Díaz was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New Jersey. He is the author of the critically acclaimed Drown; The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award; This Is How You Lose Her, a New York Times bestseller and National Book Award finalist; and a debut picture book, Islandborn. He is the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, PEN/Malamud Award, Dayton Literary Peace Prize, Guggenheim Fellowship, and PEN/O. Henry Award. A graduate of Rutgers College, Díaz is currently the fiction editor at Boston Review and the Rudge and Nancy Allen Professor of Writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.