The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, the 2007 novel by author Junot Díaz, won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction, along with multiple other awards. This modern-day tale of an unlikely hero takes readers on the dark journey of a contemporary immigrant.
The novel's main character, Oscar de Léon, is a "ghetto nerd" from a family of immigrants from the Dominican Republic. Plagued by the fukú curse brought upon the aboriginal people of the Americas by Christopher Columbus, Oscar portrays himself as a hero in search of his personal Grail—a "pure and unadulterated love." Obsessed with science fiction and fantasy, Oscar is alienated in his lower-class community. Throughout high school, and into his teaching career, he is the victim of the narrow perspectives of those without his imagination and vision.
Told from the point of view of Oscar’s sister Lola and his best friend Yunior, this tale of the search for redemption leads the reader through the darkest corners of a country under dictatorial control. Lola seeks her own redemption, away from her family and her heritage. She loves only her younger brother Oscar and seeks to protect him from the curse that tragically affects their family.
Yunior, his best friend and college roommate, does not quite understand Oscar, yet loves him just the same and sees that there is something within Oscar that begs to be understood. As the primary narrator of the novel, Yunior provides a loving portrait of a tortured soul within a tortured family. The redemption of Oscar’s “brief wondrous life” comes at a significant, but justified, price.
Junot Díaz tells a brutal, but irresistible, story in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Through the eyes of various narrators, readers enter the frightening world of a Dominican Republic family living in New Jersey. The characters’ lives are overflowing with injustices, unrequited love, lost opportunities, physical cruelties, and as one narrator points out, an ancient Dominican curse called fukú.
The background of the story takes place in the Dominican Republic under the fearsome dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo, a man who, according to one narrator, imprisoned, tortured, and murdered thousands for merely looking at him in the wrong way. Oscar, the character around whom this novel revolves, had a grandfather who was imprisoned for almost two decades because he refused to bring his oldest daughter to meet Trujillo. A few years after the doctor was sentenced, only one of his daughters remained alive. The rest of the family had been victims of the fukú, a curse of doom that would continue to track down the doctor’s descendants.
Beli, the surviving daughter who would become Oscar’s mother, grew into a dark-skinned, tall, and big-breasted young woman—an object of lust and jealousy in her small Dominican village. Her tia (aunt) La Inca tried her best to raise Beli properly, but Beli was strong-willed and eager for more than her aunt could provide. In her naivety and desire for excitement, Beli falls in love with one of Trujillo’s men, hoping that he (referred to only as Gangster) would cure her boredom. Gangster, unfortunately, is a married man. His wife, even more unfortunately, is Trujillo’s sister. One night, Beli is beaten, many of her bones are broken, and she is left in a cane field to die. She does not die, but she comes close. In order to protect her, her aunt sends her to New Jersey. There, Beli recovers and marries a man who sticks around only long enough to twice impregnate her. She has a daughter, Lola, and a son, Oscar.
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is strong, beautiful, and determined. Oscar turns out to be quite the opposite. He is very overweight and hides behind science fiction books (both reading and writing them) and in front of the screens of video games. Oscar longs for friends, especially girlfriends, but if his looks do not scare the girls away, his lack of social skills certainly does. He comes close, one time, with Ana Obregón. But it turns out that Ana just wants a friend to talk to. Ana already has a boyfriend, Manny, who often punches her in the face. At one point, Oscar takes a gun and waits for Manny to come home. Oscar wants to kill him. Fortunately, Manny does not come home that night, but the idea of death has entered Oscar’s mind, and twice he tries to kill himself.
Oscar’s mom decides he needs a taste of his roots. So she sends him to La Inca in the Dominican Republic. Once there, Oscar falls obsessively in love with a prostitute who lives two houses down the block. Ybón is several years older than Oscar but enjoys his company. They spend a lot of time together in her house, at the beach, and at the movies. Word gets out, unfortunately, to Ybón’s suitor, a Dominican cop referred to only as the "capitán." Although Oscar and Ybón’s relationship is merely platonic (despite Oscar’s fantasies), Oscar is badly beaten one night and, like his mother before him, left to die in the cane fields. Oscar also survives and returns to New Jersey. Oscar is still young (in his early twenties by then) and vulnerable. While he heals, he can think of nothing but Ybón and plans his return.
When he gets back to the Dominican Republic, he tells Ybón he loves her. He wants desperately to have sex, which she finally agrees to, though she is extremely frightened that the capitán will discover them, which he does. Oscar is beaten again, and this time he dies of his injuries. However, he does not die a virgin, which was one of his greatest fears.