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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Length: 9 hrs and 54 mins
4.3 out of 5 stars (296 ratings)

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Summary

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, 2008.

Things have never been easy for Oscar. A ghetto nerd living with his Dominican family in New Jersey, he's sweet but disastrously overweight. He dreams of becoming the next J R R Tolkien and he keeps falling hopelessly in love. Poor Oscar may never get what he wants, thanks to the Fuku - the curse that has haunted his family for generations.

With dazzling energy and insight Diaz immerses us in the tumultuous lives of Oscar; his runaway sister Lola; their beautiful mother Belicia; and in the family's uproarious journey from the Dominican Republic to the US and back.

Rendered with uncommon warmth and humour, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a literary triumph that confirms Junot Diaz as one of the most exciting writers of our time.

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©2007 Junot Diaz (P)2008 Recorded Books LLC

What listeners say about The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

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  • M.
  • 12-03-15

Wow.

Awesome, educational, revolting, heartbreaking. I highly recommend this book. It's told in such a great way. So honest and with such cool references. It just blew my mind.

4 people found this helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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Disliked

**spoiler alert** I did not like this book. It starts off as this overview of Oscar (not Oscar Wao, as you would have thought, which is eventually revealed to be a taunting nickname based off of Oscar Wilde), spoken (as I listened to the audio book rather than reading the actual novel) off this unknown presenter. It would later be revealed to be Oscar's roommate at college Yunior, who would also date Oscar's sister for a short time. Anyway, there's this curse called fuku in Dominican culture and Oscar is sure that his family suffers from this curse, and then explains that he knows that he has this curse because when he was in primary school he dated two girls at the same time. The more beautiful of the girls was jealous and made him dump the other girl (who was literally the female version of Oscar and should he just have dated her on her own in the first place, I feel like none of this novel would have been written and Oscar and this other girl would have been happy together but...), only to be dumped the next day by the girl. Oscar would grow up to be overweight and a nerd, essentially, which meant that he wasn't the greatest at dating. The beautiful girl would grow up and continued dating jocks and abusive men, while the less attractive girl grew up to be overweight and a nerd, like Oscar. This apparently shows that all three are under the curse of fuku. This idea of fuku is an overarching plot line throughout the novel, stretching over all of Oscar's family (himself, his mother and his sister). After a few chapters, it changes from Yunior talking about Oscar and instead focuses on Lola (Oscar's sister) talking about her strained relationship with their mother, Beli. I thought that the change in narrator was a nice touch, foreshadowing Lola and Yunior's future romance and closeness. Other than that, I didn't really get it. Was it just to show that she too suffered the curse of the fuku? Lola ran off from her mothers due to emotional abuse and lived with her boyfriend and his father, who hated both his son and Lola. She hoped to make a life for herself far away from Beli and be successful. In a moment of homesickness she calls Oscar who leads their mother directly to her. While she detests this, she is trapped by her mother and stays with her family. After (SPOILERS) Oscar dies at the end of the novel, Lola married and had a daughter that Yunior wishes was his, and hopes is smart enough to overcome fuku by coming to him and asking about her great-grandfather, grandmother and uncle. After Lola's short interlude, the narration turns towards Beli's time in the Dominican Republic as a child. She was one of three children, the daughter of a doctor who was imprisoned under the rule of Trujillo, a dictator who ruled the Dominican Republic. Beli lived with her aunt after her mother and two sisters had died. Wishing to get away, she fell in love with a man known only as Gangster. This is to her detriment however as he was married to Trujillo's sister; Beli is taken to a sugar cane field and is beaten half to death. This is later mirrored by Oscar, and emphasized the cultural heritage of the cane fields in the Dominican Republic; Spain built an empire on the sugar fields and plantations and in this novel, they are used as metaphors for the brutality and oppression suffered by the Dominican Republic by the Spanish Empire. Following this, Beli is sent to New Jersey by her aunt, and she falls in love with a man there. He however, only stayed long enough to have conceived Lola and Oscar before leaving, showing that the fuku curse did indeed run in the family. However, I did not feel like this section, which seemed to take over half of the book, was truly needed in the novel. The novel was supposed to be about the short life of Oscar, and he was not part of the book for the majority. If it was needed in the novel, I didn't really understand the significance of the section other than Beli's father is how the fuku curse started in the family. The narration then returns to Oscar; he graduates Rutgers University where he met Yunior, and tags along with his family on their annual summer holiday to the Dominican Republic.Oscar's fuku curse comes in the term that he wants to lose his virginity and fall in love. Oscar does love in love in the Dominican Republic with a middle aged prostitute called Ybon, Ybon is dating the police captain, and is abused by him. Oscar spends time with Ybon before the Captain sends his lower downs to beat Oscar up, which they do in a sugar cane field, mirroring his mother from earlier in the novel. Beli reacts to this by returning Oscar to New Jersey. However, Oscar can't let go of Ybon, and borrowing money from Yunior, returns to Ybon. He spends (I think?) a month in the Dominican Republic before Ybon relents and has sex with him. They are caught by the Captain, who has his men shoot Oscar. Oscar dies. A while later, Lola receives a letter sent through the post by Oscar before he died, explaining that he finally got to experience the little intimacies of love and that he is happy. This effectively means that the fuku curse was broken, I think. Except for Beli, who dies a year or so after Oscar from her returning breast cancer. Lola married a man and had a daughter in Miami before moving back to New Jersey. Yunior teaches and is also married. He harbors the hope that he and Lola would get back together, but if they meet up in the street, they only ever talk about Oscar. Overall, I seriously struggled with this book. Maybe it was the awkward story line, the constant time jumping, the changing narrators, the sudden change in language between English and Spanish, maybe it was a combination of all of it, but I really did not enjoy this book. Most of the way through I really wished that I could have just left it, but I had to know how it ended, which is why I finished it in the end. I don't feel like it was worth it.

7 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars

Funny and tragic in turns

I enjoyed this book, the interweaving of the history of the Dominican Republic alongside the history of Oscar's family was fascinating. The only issue for me was that I am not a Spanish speaker, and as the author frequently reverted to his native tongue. This felt very right within the context of the story, but because he provided no explanation of what he was saying,it felt as though I was missing quite a bit.

7 people found this helpful

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Amazing

So close to a 5 * the narration was perfect, and the odd Spanish sentence doesn’t detract from the story so ignore those reviews, I know so little Spanish and it was no big deal. Listen to this story, you will learn , you will laugh and you will cry, and you will enjoy!

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

The Bard of Silk City

Junot Diaz is well known and this novel was much anticipated through his short-story work on The New Yorker and on that basis, I dived into this full length novel with relish. It represents a fresh voice which stands apart, above and beyond lots of new millennium city-lit in the States and is an invigorating read, though not necessarily from start to finish.
There are definite high-points through the narrative - in particular long sections of The Three Heartbreaks of Belicia Cabral and Poor Abelard are really engaging and fascinating for someone who knew nothing of the brutal regime of Rafael Trujillo its history and impact on the Dominican Republic - and these sections alone are worth the money. Elsewhere, the ?modern? GhettoNerd at the End of the World , whilst well ornamented, does not seem to sparkle to the same extent that is suggested by the wonderful ?Alma? on which the earlier expressed anticipation was based. Junot Diaz has certainly found the voice of Silk City, but the short-comings of Oscar as a central character on which to hang the narrative translates to a little disappointment on my part - whilst I?m really not interested in Star Trek and Marvel the litter of detailed Dominica detritus sustains the work through the less than dazzling sections. Maybe more (or is that less) simpatico on the part of hombre Wao might have livened this one up to consistent heights - but that?s just small potato criticism of a highly original and entertaining new voice on the New York scene.

2 people found this helpful

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Excellent narrators, disappointing story

I need to be honest; I had to "read" this for a university course, and I would have never been able do it had I not been pressured to do so. I did not enjoy the story, although I found the changing perspective to give the book more dimensions, which enhanced the experience somewhat. The narrators are doing an incredible job, so kudos to them.

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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Fantastic

It's easy to see why this book is being hailed as the next modern classic, it's extremely well written with a very human and intriguing story. The different characters are all well developed and have their own distinct voices. The narrator does a brilliant job. Highly recommend, I only wish I spoke better Spanish, I'm going to be spending a lot of time on Google translator for my next listen!

1 person found this helpful

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    5 out of 5 stars
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just great and brilliantly told

I love the story and I love the performance. Is this the first time a Pulitzer winner is narrated by a different Pulitzer winner? Ipf I have a criticism, in the US most people may have rudimentary school Spanish. Other English language countries, not so. Translations alongside the frequent Spanish would have been helpful.

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Lin-Manuel Miranda gives a PERFECT performance

I would give this book a thousand starts if I could, amazing in every way.

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Lin-Manuel adds a lot to the story

I've read the book a couple and thought I'd give the audiobook a go as I'm a fan of Hamilton. This performance adds so much to the book. Exactly what you want from an audiobook. The novel itself is one of the best pieces of modern story telling .

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  • audiobooker
  • 20-01-13

Helps if you speak Spanish!

The narrators were of a high standard, but there is a fair amount of spanish used throughout the book. I'm told the print version translates the spanish in footnotes and I certainly would have got more from the audiobook had those footnotes been incorporated. Nonetheless it was a good, though depressing, listen.

2 people found this helpful

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  • Joshua Marcus
  • 12-10-20

Excellent blend of story and history

When I started reading about Oscar Wao, I did not expect a lesson in Dominican history. I don't love history, but it is pivotal to the stories of Oscar's family members (and indirectly Oscar himself), and the author does a great job at keeping it compelling throughout. A couple of notes: -Oscar is the least interesting character, which is unfortunate. I think he even gets less "screen time" than other characters. This is to the book's detriment, as when you start reading about the others, it feels like you are going on a long detour, when that is the meat of the novel. -Regarding the Spanish content: it is slightly frustrating at times that there is no English translation for words and phrases, especially because you can't copy/paste it into Google Translate. However, you can get the gist from the context, and it is never all that much of a problem. Don't let that deter you from listening.

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  • Brian P.
  • 10-08-20

One of the best

This has been by far one of the best stories I have had the pleasure of listening to. The reader was beyond fantastic, which took this already great book to a whole new level. Bravo.

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  • Elena Claydon
  • 09-09-17

didn't want it to end!

A fantastic story - both hilarious and tragic at the same time. Had me laughing out loud and choked up too. The narrator was amazing and made the story for me. 100% recommend!

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  • Rochelle
  • 18-07-13

No, no, no

I have no idea how this story was awarded a Pulitzer Prize. To me it feels more aimed at young adults - certainly this reading makes it feel this way & the main narrator of the story feels better suited to a younger audience.

I couldn't buy in to the story at all. Some of the characters, yes, especially the female ones. But Oscar - the main character - felt completely inaccessible to me. I didn't see any development in him throughout the storyline & his "achievements" seemed to be more down to luck than personal growth. As a character he was very limited.

Little about Oscar's own life seemed "Wonderous" to me. His family history certainly had some interest in it, but his own life held little.

Oscar's friend "Junior" the narrator seemed a strange choice to tell the story of Oscar's family as it seemed unlikely he'd have had access to as much information as the story contained.

I persisted to the end with this one but it felt like wasted effort.