Book Reviews of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Author: Junot Diaz
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ISBN-13: 9781594489587
ISBN-10: 1594489580
Publication Date: 9/6/2007
Pages: 338
  • Currently 3.6/5 Stars.

3.6 stars, based on 247 ratings
Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover
Book Type: Hardcover
Reviews: Amazon | Write a Review

61 Book Reviews submitted by our Members...sorted by voted most helpful

reviewed The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao on + 59 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 15
I absolutely loved this book. I've never read a book that is ANYTHING like this, the language used and sense of humor was wonderful. It's a fiction story, but filled with historical footnotes (mainly dealing with with Dominican history) that puts everything in context. The book goes from one character's point of view to another, all coming together to tell the story of Oscar and his "fuku" (cursed) bloodline. If you aren't offended by cursing and sex in books, this book is a real experience and completely unforgettable.
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Helpful Score: 8
I just finished this book and had a hard time getting through it. There are many interuptions in the story with footnotes that describe Dominican life. That was sometimes helpful but sometimes interrupted the flow of the book. The author also uses quite a bit of un-translated spanish throughout. Having had a few years of spanish, I could put it in context but if you have no knowledge of spanish, keep a language translation dictionary handy.

This book is the story of Oscar a nerdy and extremely geeky Dominican man that is struggling to find where he fits in life. Diaz explores three generations of his family and at times you aren't quite sure which family members background story we are getting. If you enjoy light reading this is not the book for you.
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Helpful Score: 6
I was hooked from the first page of this riveting book! I loved the Spanish "dichos" (sayings) and all of the Fantasy/Sci-Fi references and was absolutely captivated by the characters. The plot was compelling and heart-wrenching. IMHO, this book is most deserving of the Pulitzer Prize. ¡Bravo!
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Helpful Score: 6
I read the back of this book and bought it as I love to read about Central and S American cultures. Started out good - was a little frustrated by the footnotes which in my opinion could have been in the book and not as separate mini text. Lots of Spanish and slang and when I actually knew the words added to the book. When I didn't, I found it distracting. Almost needs a glossary in the back for those that don't know the words. Struggled to get into it and ended up putting it down (which I rarely do but am learning its OK) about the midpoint. Not my cup of tea but maybe someone else would enjoy.
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Helpful Score: 4
Fiction. * * * *. Looks at the life of an overweight, lonely nerd aspiring to be a writer and fall in love, and how his life may have been affected by an old Dominican curse. Interspersed with pop culture references and idiomatic expressions, it is both humorous and tragic.
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Helpful Score: 4
From the title of this book and its back cover, I wasn't sure that I was going to relate to the overweight, sci-fi loving Oscar Wao. However, Junot Diaz managed to hook me from the first pages with his story about four generations of a Dominican-American family who are always on the brink of making it. I enjoyed his liberal usage of Spanish, despite my limited understanding. I also enjoyed the non-chronological nature of the story that somehow unraveled in just the way I needed it to, to really empathize with the characters. The Dominican history lessons sprinkled throughout the book were an enjoyable aside to the main story. I recommend this book to those who aren't put off by foul language!
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Helpful Score: 4
This is a story about Oscar, an overweight virgin, and his family who originally came from the Dominican Republic.

All through the book I questioned "What kind of reader does this book appeal to?" I could never really figure it out. Without giving away my true age...I grew up during the 70's and 80's, in a moderately geeky style, and I recognized some Twilight Zone and Middle Earth references but many were completely lost on me. A semester of high school Spanish did not cut it. I found it a little distracting to stop and try to translate a fair amount of Spanish and some words that may have just been slang. I wish the author had worked many overly long footnotes into the text of the story, I think he could have.

Overall, the book kept my interest with its unique writing style. The story was more about a family than about Oscar whose life I did not find all that wondrous.
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Helpful Score: 4
This was an excellent story. It is written in Spanglish, but the footnotes will help you out. I couldn't put this one down.
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Helpful Score: 4
Like the other readers, I did have some trouble getting past the Spanish, but since I lived in Texas for 4 years and took 3 years of High School Spanish, I was actually surprised that I could translate the bulk of it. (yes, I remember all the dirty words). This book is so much more than just Oscar and although the footnotes are a bit distracting(I had to read them and go back to re-read the paragraph it belonged to), I was extremely pleased with how much I liked this book. I liked all the sci-fi references and I think I've met a few Oscar Wao's in my life. The story of his family sparked an interest to read more about the history of the DR and I have to admit I was sad when I finished the book. I wanted more. Very interesting read, but probably not for everyone. If you can get past footnotes and Spanish slang, it is well worth it.
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Helpful Score: 2
I usually agree with the taste of the Pulitzer Prize committee but the fact that this book won the top prize surprised me.

I started this book with much anticipation because Junot Diaz is a good writer (read his first book of short stories) and the plot had so much potential (sci-fi loving ghetto nerd, what's not to like?) but I found the main character weak, simple and just plain boring. I struggled to finish. The overwhelming amount of Spanish slang took so much away from the book, usually one can infer the meaning of a foreign word in the context of the paragraph - NOT in the case of this book - the slang was distracting, confusing and made the story feel disjointed. Diaz probably felt he was keeping things authentic but when the reader walks away confused, it's not helping your story. For a native Spanish speaker I'm sure the experience of this novel will be high but for those who have only little to basic knowledge of Spanish, it's a chore.
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Helpful Score: 2
This was a very interesting book written in an interesting way. The character development is great and the story keeps you interested. Detractors for me included sometimes very long footnotes that felt like a distraction but were too tempting to ignore. Also, I know Spanish so I could figure out many (but not all) of the expressions. I think I would have been frustrated if I couldn't figure out what they mean. This is not a "light" story but it is easy to read and made me want to keep reading to find out what was going to happen next. I do see why it won awards, I would recommend it.
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Helpful Score: 2
I found the unusual writing style irritating, but the storyline was intriguing, and I fought my way through to the end. The long historical footnotes were somewhat humorous, but mostly a nuisance, and I pretty much quite reading them a quarter of the way in. Maybe I am too impatient a reader for this style.
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Helpful Score: 2
Culturally, this book was exceedingly difficult to relate to. Except for the scifi references, which I often found amusing. But, The racial slurs (even if in self reference) the profanity both in english and spanish, and other derogatory comments made this book less a bit of a struggle to get through. If you can manage to ignore the language and what not, the underlying story is a good one. Oscar is likable and pitiable. The Dom. Rep background is lamentable but I think the people should be aware of what goes on in other countries.
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Helpful Score: 2
This is one of the best novels I've read in a long time. The author does a great job with character development and voice.
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Helpful Score: 1
I really did not like this book at all. So many members are seeking a copy and I have no idea why it is so popular. I do enjoy good Latino stories but this one , yuck. All it seemed to be about was a kid who was Dominican who as a child became fat. All he seemed to think about was trying to get some girl to kiss and have sex; he was obsessed. He was quite intelligent and read a great deal. All his family and his friends talked about were girls, girls, girls and sex. They made fun of him because no girl wanted to be his girlfriend or have sex with him. Lines like, "Hey, you're Dominican. How could you not be having sex?" That is not verbatim but the gist of it was since he was Dominican, he should be a stud and screwing every girl he could.

In the book, they also went back and told about how his mother grew up in the Dominican Republic and the life she had. She did have a horrible childhood but as soon as she got boobs and a figure, all she thought about was using her body to get whatever she wanted and she liked the feel of power. Meanwhile she was doing very well in school and got a scholarship to a prestigious high school but since she was not rich and one of the "in" crowd, she hated it. She stopped going to school and got a job as a waitress/server at 14, I think. Then she falls for one of Trujillo's men, who is married and he tells her he is going to marry her and give her all kinds of fine things. Yeah, right. She gets pregnant and then things go from bad to worse. Trujillo is a dictator who ruled the D.R. with an iron fist, killing anyone who opposed him in any way.

This is a story about sex and obsessions and what can happen if you let them rule your life. My sister read it and she did not like it either.
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Helpful Score: 1
Loved this book very much. A bonus if you're Dominican, I would imagine. Made me laugh but it also made me cry, especially for the main character Oscar who is very relatable, if you're someone who never really fit in. I loved the vivid language, though some may find it offensive. Highly recommend.
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Helpful Score: 1
This book deserved the high praise my friends lavished on it, the Pulitzer, the gushing of envious contemporaries. The urban voice, inflected with science fiction/fantasy jargon and Spanish, is perfect. You just don't want to put it down. This author is generous with his characters and they seem very real. He gives a big slice of difficult Dominican history and makes it easy to understand.
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Helpful Score: 1
I too found this a good story but also want to warn potential readers that there is a great deal of Spanish and Spanish slang in the text. There are few translations and unless you know the language, this is will be extremely frustrating to you as a reader. I know it was to me. This has to be one of the most annoying things for a reader, as you know you are missing a lot of the meaning the author wants to convey.
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Helpful Score: 1
Never got invested in this book. I read about 150 pages into it and finally gave up. Luckily, I knew a fairly good amount of Spanish so I could follow more of it than some would be able to, but I did not know a lot of the slang used which held up the flow of reading. I was also SO frusterated by the exorbitant amount of footnotes that I ended up completely skipping them after the first 20 pages. They kept pulling me out of the story. I also did not really care about the loooong backstory with his sister and mother. I never felt like I was on a meaningful trajectory, and in the end, I abandoned the story completely. A shame.
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Helpful Score: 1
I can't wait until enough time passes so that I can reread this book! While the characters live in New Jersey and hail from the Dominican Republic, this book spoke to me, a woman from Arizona with no ties the islands. The narrator uses references from Tolkien, Watchmen, Dune, and the bloody history of the island to bring alive the internal lives of its unique protagonists.
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Helpful Score: 1
I got through the first 50 pages and stopped! If you have to read this book for book club attempt to read it, but otherwise go onto another book
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Helpful Score: 1
What a great read! Lots of dry humor.
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Helpful Score: 1
Fun, colorful writing by Diaz. Hits the nerd genre on the head for poor Oscar. Crazy story, not a top 10 on my list but fun to read.
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Helpful Score: 1
Love this book!!! I have found a new favorite author.
It touches on a part of Dominican history that many people don't know about.
The author's voice is very real and its about time talent like this gets recognition.
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Helpful Score: 1
I tried to read this to page 100 and decided there are so many other books in this world that I might actually enjoy. Difficult to read because full of Spanish, so hard to follow who's story you are reading (there are 3 characters). In fact, I was never sure if they were talking about life in the Dominican Republic or America. I have no idea how in the world this book ever got a Pulitzer fact it took me 2 weeks to read the 100 pages because it was so awful.
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Helpful Score: 1
i picked this up at the domicile because it looked interesting...

it was really hard for me to get into it- the flow was really weird (there are pages of historical notes on the dominican republic which were interesting, but not necessary) and the narrator used a lot of bad language. i think one of his favorites word was the n word.

theres also a lot of spanish in it, and though i know some mexican spanish, a lot of this was dominican and slang. it wouldve been nice if it was translated for those who dont know slang.

once i got past those things though, and really got into the story it was great and ididnt want to put it down. a tragic love story with a lot of family history and ethnic myths.
reviewed The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao on + 18 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 1
Oscar is a sweet, seriously overweight, ghetto nerd in New Jersey who dreams of being a dominican writer and romantic. This is a multi-generational family tragedy using the history of the Dominican Republic as catalyst for the "fuku" that ultimately works its disaster on this family. Through well placed flash backs we learn how earlier generations were both in part responsible for the fuku as well as recipients of its curse. I read this book with a Spanish-English dictionary by my side. Even then, I had to guess at the meaning of some of the DR slang. I found the bilingual descriptions added to the reality of the story. This is how people think and speak -accept it! I was interested in the story and so the sometimes extensive footnotes on DR politics only added to my understanding of the context. A dominican would know these things and this is a domnican story. If you want to read a book that will transport you into another culture and let you see a family's struggles and progress through decades get this book. Be prepared to experience characters and aspects of live that you never knew before.
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Im not a huge fan of the pulitzer winners but this one is an exception. Interesting characters and writing that holds your attention.
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I didn't think it was as good as the hype.
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I read This is How You Lose Her two years ago when it first came out, and I loved it so since then I've wanted to read The Brief Wondrous life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz' most acclaimed and famous work. Oscar Wao did not disappoint me. It was so smooth and well written-- it took me about 30 pages in to realize that there were no quotation marks. Also I love multi-generational stories, and this one delivers with common motifs and themes throughout. It's a pretty amazing book. The reason why I am giving it 4 stars instead of 5 is because the pacing wasn't the best in some areas, and sometimes the writing style was a bit grating
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Both my husband anad read this book (separately) and thoroughly enjoyed it. Vivid images and so true to life. Liked varying styles of story telling.
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I really enjoyed this book. It was a little hard to follow the narrators, as they shifted, and I can't imagine reading it without a working knowledge of Spanish--you could either skip it, and lose a little context, or keep a dictionary by your side, but the story was great, as was the writing.
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Heartbreaking, gripping, and unlike anything else I've ever read - an odd mix of Spanish slang and sci-fi references that detail the life story of not only Oscar, but his sister, mother, adoptive grandmother, grandparents, aunts, friend and sometimes boyfriend of his sister, and the Dominican Republic while under Trujillo's dictatorship.

I have to say, geek that I am, I got pretty much all the sci-fi references sprinkled throughout the book. I have a little Spanish and was able to understand some of the phrases, if only by context alone. But a few references escaped me, and I found a website called invaluable for those.

A difficult read at times, due to both writing style and content, but worth reading.
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Liked this book. I'd recommend using this annotated guide alongside it, since there are a lot of relatively specific pop culture references and a lot of Spanish phrases:
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I like the fast pace & the dialogue of this book. The narrator is hip and uses Dominican slang. It's a kind of a comic-tragedy type story. Oscar is sort of a sap.
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Didn't love it. It was a difficult one to finish (and I almost didn't). The N word is used way too much for what seems like no real reason. I don't believe that these kids are calling each other that. I know a lot of friends who used to use it with the **ggA at the end, but not the ER. It just rubbed me the wrong way.

Also, the footnotes were excessive and annoying (I stopped reading them) and there were a lot of chapters that I completely skimmed through. They were more of a history lesson than anything else.

All in all this book was painful for me to get through. I'm really disappointed considering the rave reviews it has received.
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I read the first fifty pages and skimmed the last 50. Does that count as having read the book? I couldn't get into it, but was curious how it would end...other than, obviously, Oscar would die.

I was turned off by the overly hip voice, the constant use of Spanish phrases and Dominican slang. I guess I'm too white to read this book.
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I was hooked from the first few pages and read the book at every chance I had. I know many people who don't speak much Spanish may have a hard time because Junot Diaz uses many dichos, many expressions in Spanish. I do speak Spanish and I can understand that not speaking it makes the book slightly more difficult to grasp. If, however, you are Latino, this is a MUST READ!
I loved getting the opportunity to learn about Dominican history, b/c I had little knowledge of its 20th Century history. The women characters as well as all the moments in the Dominican Republic were what stayed with me after reading. There were moments when my heart broke and a few pages I later I would laugh just as deeply. Unbelievable mixture!
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Amazing book.
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I could not put this down and was devistated and lonely when it ended. It is not Oscar whose life is wonderous, it's the narrator's. The changes in the narrator's voice are what makes it so compelling.
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Very well written, but rather dark.
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As a concept, the book is cool, but I just could not get into the story. The footnotes were the most interesting part, I thought.
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I HATED this book! I got about 50 pages in and had to stop. I couldn't get into the character, there were footnotes (if you can't fit it into the narrative I shouldn't have to read it), and I didn't like the flow of the book. I hope everyone else has a better experience.
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The book is creatively written and engaging. I wish I had boned up on my Spanish before reading this book because some is interminged--not enough to lose the meaning of the book, but enough that I wish I understood it. The footnotes, while often informative and interesting, where sometimes distratcing to the story. All that aside, the book was very good. A week later, and I am still thinking about Oscar and the DR.
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A multi-generational tale of a Dominican family, narrated primarily through the amusing, sardonic voice of a family friend. Oscar is an overweight, nerdy, woman-crazy young man from a family that has experienced numerous tragedies. In the process of learning his story, you also learn some Dominican history, primarily about the horrors of the Trujillo dictatorship. An altogether unusual, satisfying novel. I loved it!
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The concept of this story seems great, but I never read past page 89. Reason being that it started to get confusing, slow, and I started to feel left out. It would help to know some basic Spanish while reading this, otherwise this book may get confusing when it comes to the details. The title seems to imply that the novel would follow Oscar throughout the entire book. But there are parts that are about his family members, and this throws off the story for me and loses appeal.
I gave this a try since it was in 1001 books to read...., so far its not my cup of tea.
Two out of five, for great appeal but may not deliver.
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Well written, but I wasn't a fan of the story.
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It wasn't what I expected but it sure was interesting. I loved the Dominican history lessons sprinkled throughout the book and the characters were very rich and well-written. Junot Diaz was deserving of the Pulitzer.
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The writing style of this book is brilliant, and pulls you in practically from the first page. The characters are real, the story is solid, and I think the book deserved all the awards it's gotten. I don't want to give any further description than what's in the summary, since I think it's best not to reveal more than that, but it's a great book.
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When I first started reading this book I was wishing there was a glossary for the Spanish words. I also found the subtitles distracting. Sometimes they annoyed me. However, I loved this book; it was just so different. Most of the time I could understand the context of the Spanish. And the subtitles were interesting. I loved the way the stories were told. The characters were wonderful. At once heartbreaking, warm, and funny this is a book I won't soon forget.
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This Pulitzer Price winner was about a family from the Dominican Republic and the curse that visited its wrath on each generation. It is also about all kinds of love -- for family, for friends, and the kind that looks death squarely in the eye simply for a moment of fulfillment. I loved this book even though I do not speak Spanish and could not fully appreciate everything it offers. Just understanding the English was enough to make this one of the best books I have read.
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I enjoyed this book. It really is excellent! But I had a really difficult time reading until I found this awesome website:

It's a MUST USE with this book if you are not well-versed in Spanish or familiar with Dominican culture and history. I enjoyed the book so much more using this tool.
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Junot Díaz's vibrant, colorful prose saves The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao from the very sad story that could have been formulated from the plot elements. The title character, Oscar, is an overweight nerd growing up in Paterson, New Jersey, threatening to become the first Dominican male to die a virgin. Fukú, a curse on his family for generations, may or may not be to blame. This idea is explored in the calamities of his various relatives, including his sister Lola and mother Beli. I enjoyed learning more about the recent history of the Dominican Republic (some told through footnotes) and the change in pace through the different timelines, but I never got the sense that I understood the role-playing gamer and aspiring novelist Oscar very well or whose perspective we are hearing from. Nonetheless, I enjoyed this Pulitzer Prize-winning entry on the list of 1001 books you must read before you die.
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It is easy to understand why this is a recent Pulitzer Prize winner (also several other awards). All in the name of art, Diaz has managed to undermine todays political correctness by expertly employing the current English language vernacular; in the first fifteen pages he manages to squeeze in more than a dozen four-letter references (the F word is his favorite) to bodily functions, not to mention his free use of the N word. This could be Redd Foxx, or Richard Prior (before his awakening) that I am reading. For those of you somewhat competent in street-level Spanish, there are numerous colloquialisms in his native tongue. Keep a Spanish-English dictionary handy, or go to the Internet at Also, as Cole Porter tells us to brush up your Shakespeare, you should brush up your Sci-Fi genre all the way back to Edgar Rice Burroughs; the protagonist is a nerdy, trekki kind of a game-playing, bookish misfit. So without all of the street argot Diaz would never have become, after two published books, a professor of writing at MIT. I must admit, though, that much of his dialogue (sans quotation marks) is presented in an amusing manner, much like that of a street-tough standup comic. In many ways this book is less about Oscar and his family than it is about the Trujillo regime (read the multitudinous footnotes) in the Dominican Republic, For another side of which you should read In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez: a work referenced at least twice in this book. So based upon the plethora of Sci-Fi bibliography do you wonder if Diaz is an over-achiever researcher, a la Updike, or if he is really the Sci-Fi part of Oscar Wao?
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I would never have picked up this book if it hadn't won the Pulitzer, but I was so glad that I did. It is a sweeping saga - yes, even though it is marketed as the life story of an overweight Hispanic nerd living in New Jersey. The characters are fascinating, and the authori manages to feed you a lesson on the history of the Dominican Republic without your noticing it. I couldn't give it five stars because I was wishing for a different end - for at least one or two of the characters.
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I was very disappointed in this book. The language is foul, a lot of Spanish which I don't read or understand, and the subject matter is just not interesting to me. I made it 1/2 way through and put it down and I struggled to read that far. I just could not relate to the characters or their lives.
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This book was an interesting way to learn some Dominican-American history. It is a story of Oscar Wao's coming of age, his family's survival and, most importantly, love that you are willing to die for. It's a beautiful story and very humorous at times. Although I did enjoy this book, it is not for the feign of heart as the narrator has a distinct voice of his own with a street dialect which is both raw and vulgar.
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I found this book painful. If you don't speak Spanish you miss much of the dialogue and descriptions (I don't). The book i about Oscar Wao, but is it? It's about his sister, his mom his grandmother. I couldn't wait to get through to the end. I made it but I couldn't wait to start a different book. Between the Spanish and the wandering story, I don't know how this is an award winning book.
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An interesting read.
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I hated this book! He kept using the word Nigger, Which is not a nice way to refer to a black person.He also had explicated sex talk in there also,He also threw in Spanish and you don't know what it means you will be lost and you will need to have a dictionary to understand what he is saying. The book also has a lot of fouled mouth langue in it. I can't understand why anyone would want to read this book? I couldn't get past the first couple of chapters.

I would NOT recommend this book to anyone!
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WOW I 'm stealing this quote from an Amazon review; it is so apt: " Junot Diaz creates a language and a tempo unlike any I've read before, peppered with Spanish colloquialisms, street talk, and video game terminology. Somehow, though, it works -- and works beautifully -- even if you don't know an "hola" from an "adios" or have never played a video game in your life (like this reader.)

I will not soon forget Oscar Wao, the 300+ pound romantic, Lola, Yunior, or his mother and the Gangster and his ill-fated grandparents. The book is compulsively readable. For all of those who say that "the novel is dead", I say: read Junot Diaz. "

It did take me a long time to "warm up", but stick with it; it is worth the Pulitzer Prize it won!!

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