The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

by Junot Díaz

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What is the genre of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao?

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The genre of Junot Diaz's Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, is magical realism, a subgenre of realistic fiction which incorporates elements of fantasy and myth. These elements of fantasy and myth are woven into an otherwise realistic narrative, so they seem both natural and believable. Magical realism is more typically characteristic of writers from non-Western cultures and locations, such as Latin America. Gabriel García Márquez's beautiful novel One Hundred Years of Solitude is considered a seminal work in the genre of magical realism.

Junot Diaz alerts his readers to the fantastic thread that will run through his narrative, which borrows facts from Diaz's own life as an immigrant from the Dominican Republic growing up in New Jersey, even before the start of chapter one. By way of background, the reader is told of the powerful Dominican belief in the presence of the Fuku, a supernatural force of karmic retribution, as subtle as air and as certain as life and death, that "always gets its man." This description of the Fuku provides the ominous and omnipresent shadow under which Oscar, the novel's ill-fated, love-obsessed character will live:

It's perfectly fine if you don't believe in these "superstitions." In fact, it's better than fine—it's perfect. Because no matter what you believe, fuku believes in you.

Magical realism as a genre works perfectly in Junot Diaz's story to integrate the elements of a traditional coming-of-age story with the very real experience of what it means to exist as a cultural outsider. Oscar embodies every teen's struggle to fit in, with the added necessity of integrating his Dominican heritage with the day-to-day reality of growing up as an immigrant in the United States.

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The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a post-modern novel and, as such, a conscious blending of many styles and media, including the following:
  • Coming-of-age story (Bildungsroman)
  • Immigrant fiction
  • Historical fiction
  • Quest literature
  • Comedy
  • Tragedy
  • Epic
  • Science fiction: e.g., Isaac Asimov
  • Fantasy: e.g., Lord of the Rings
  • Comic book: e.g., Spider Man
  • Intertextual literature: e.g., Oscar Wilde
  • Picaresque: e.g., Invisible Man
  • Pop Culture Homage: e.g., Dr. No, Land of the Lost
  • Dominican History: e.g., Trajillo
As a whole, Postmodernism rejects Western values and beliefs as only a small part of the human experience and often rejects such ideas, beliefs, culture, and norms. So, it can best be described as a mosaic, or a a collage – a volatile and combustible mash-up – a mix tape of real, unreal, past, present, comedy, and tragedy, just like the de Leon family.

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