Junot Díaz - The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao

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His debut novel, from 2007; the book's two epigraphs are a Derek Walcott poem and "Of what import are brief, nameless lives ... to Galactus??

I found it much more, uh, infused wrt/comics than Lethem's Fortress Of Solitude, even if it isn't necessarily about them in the same way as Lethem or Chabon or &c. Found this interview at Newsarama. Useful excerpt:

"This is a book about a Dominican family, and yet it's told in nerdish. It's like high-comic-book, instead of high elvish! It was something the editors were really wigged out about, because there was no attempt to translate or foreground. Either you got it, or you didn't ... I think that for me, it wasn't so much throwing the reader off but challenging the reader to say, "Okay, there's a huge body of people in the United States who understand this fanboy-speak." There's a huge body of them. There's a huge body of people who understand Spanish. Why marginalize either of these things?
They're both legitimate languages that a large body of people understand. Why not have them both in a story about a kid who grows up obsessed with comics and role-playing games, you know?
And then there's the idea that Oscar Wao hits on again and again: what is more sci-fi, more genre, more Darkseid than the history of the Dominican Republic?
What I'm arguing in the book, in part, is that not only are there folks that use comics and their metaphors as a way of understanding the world but that there are parts of the world, experiences in the world, that cannot be understood without the metaphors that comic books deploy."

Anyway, what does ILC think? I'd come across Díaz thru his more "typical" New Yorker short stories (which are excellent; the '96 collection Drown is his only other book), & I'm seeing him at a local Readers & Writer's festival this week; there's no ILx discussion anywhere.

etc, Wednesday, 14 May 2008 00:24 (fifteen years ago) link

I loved this book, and precisely for that reason - that Junot didn't bother to pander to non-nerds, non-Spanish-speakers. It feels very true. Plus, I love in Washington Heights, so even if it wasn't geographically perfect, it felt very much about this community.

But yeah, I agree that there's something more essential about comics here than in Fortress of Solitude or Chabon -- tho maybe that's because it's not so much about the comics themselves but about this kid that reads them. While Fortress is about both.

Mordy, Wednesday, 14 May 2008 00:46 (fifteen years ago) link

I liked this book, while finding it a bit disappointing (the more the story stayed away from Oscar himself, the less interesting I found it). What was interesting was that I found myself wondering just how much sense it would make to people who had grown up on comics and SF/fantasy novels and movies--I imagine it reads to them the way other people using sporting metaphors sound to me.

James Morrison, Wednesday, 14 May 2008 00:48 (fifteen years ago) link

Met him a couple months ago. Seemed like a nice guy.

M.V., Wednesday, 14 May 2008 02:40 (fifteen years ago) link

I was kind've surprised by how, well, compressed it was - even with the Oscar (or Yunior) parts, it'd skip through time pretty rapidly and without too much warning. Not being from the Americas, I'm k-rusty on Haiti & the DR, so the non-NY sections were pretty compelling - reminded me a bit of some Russian writers I like.

etc, Wednesday, 14 May 2008 22:55 (fifteen years ago) link

i found the opposite of someone above, that the 'family-saga-for-people-who-don't-read-family-sagas' bits were more interesting than oscar himself by the end ...

there was an IL(E? B? C?) thread a while ago about the room for a new aesthetic where people could suddenly be all SERIOUS about their childhood affection for comics and not be mocked for it, it's all cultural literacy y'know, it's not that they need to grow up, etc - i think that stuff applies a great deal to this book, probably more than whatever book that thread was actually arguing about, i forget

thomp, Thursday, 15 May 2008 20:15 (fifteen years ago) link

i found the opposite of someone above, that the 'family-saga-for-people-who-don't-read-family-sagas' bits were more interesting than oscar himself by the end

I thought I would too, but they seemed to drag on a bit repetitively and in the end I just wanted to find out what would bring about the implied 'end' of Oscar.

James Morrison, Thursday, 15 May 2008 23:06 (fifteen years ago) link

one year passes...

about halfway through and just read the passage where he compares Beli's surviving a DR secret police beat down to Superman in DKR. REALLY enjoying Diaz's use of language. Have been reading Richard Price and translated Swedish detective novels all summer, so am perhaps extra sensitive to an engaging narrator.

there's a better way to browse (Dr. Superman), Saturday, 22 August 2009 22:09 (fourteen years ago) link

Big Diaz blurb on the back of 'Pluto'

sample rants or ?BURNS?. (forksclovetofu), Sunday, 23 August 2009 00:27 (fourteen years ago) link

OTM: reminded me a bit of some Russian writers I like

there's a better way to browse (Dr. Superman), Sunday, 23 August 2009 01:44 (fourteen years ago) link

one month passes...

my wife: It was okay. I guess I just didn't connect with the voice the same way you did.
me: was it all the comic references?
my wife: that, and the spanish. I feel like I missed some big stuff because I don't know any Spanish.
me: do you want me to tell you who Darkseid is and why he's awesome?

there's a better way to browse (Dr. Superman), Friday, 25 September 2009 04:47 (fourteen years ago) link

In Spanish, please.

M.V., Friday, 25 September 2009 06:59 (fourteen years ago) link


Nhex, Friday, 25 September 2009 13:21 (fourteen years ago) link

one year passes...
one year passes...


― fauxmarc, Tuesday, September 11, 2012 2:21 PM (6 days ago)

(from the Le1f thread!)

etc, Monday, 17 September 2012 07:34 (eleven years ago) link

DJ Pulitzer Prize Winning Author Junot Diaz would be a good DJ name

look at this quarterstaff (Hurting 2), Monday, 17 September 2012 12:38 (eleven years ago) link

eleven months pass...

this is just so enjoyable, http://www.grubstreet.com/2013/08/junot-diaz-grub-street-diet.html

szarkasm (schlump), Friday, 30 August 2013 18:36 (ten years ago) link

Can you enjoy this book if you only have basic conversational Spanish?

I wish to incorporate disco into my small business (chap), Monday, 2 September 2013 23:27 (ten years ago) link

Yes. You don't actaully need to know any Spanish at all

Number None, Tuesday, 3 September 2013 01:13 (ten years ago) link

nine months pass...

met him last weekend and he's like the nicest guy ever! also his girlfriend writes for x-men. And she is also nice.

akm, Wednesday, 2 July 2014 03:42 (nine years ago) link

just gave it to my sister who has never read a single comic book, has no point of reference for the geek refs but she absolutely loved it and promptly moved on to Drown which did not move her as much

think for her part ofit was all the resonances she felt (as did i when first reading it) between the dominican republic horrors and our experience of growing up under the Derg in Ethiopia

H in Addis, Wednesday, 2 July 2014 14:09 (nine years ago) link

three years pass...

A grim read:

I was raped when I was eight years old. By a grownup that I truly trusted.

After he raped me, he told me I had to return the next day or I would be “in trouble.”

And because I was terrified, and confused, I went back the next day and was raped again.

I never told anyone what happened, but today I’m telling you.

And anyone else who cares to listen.

morning wood truancy (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Monday, 9 April 2018 13:46 (five years ago) link

a very affecting read. feel like I've had the wind knocked out of me

Louis Jägermeister (jim in vancouver), Monday, 9 April 2018 17:14 (five years ago) link


niels, Monday, 9 April 2018 17:28 (five years ago) link

three weeks pass...

just reread This is How You Lose Her, it certainly reads differently after this article, it always seemed autobiographical but it's like there's this dark elipsis so much clearer now

niels, Wednesday, 2 May 2018 19:04 (five years ago) link

It's a thorny topic, but heard some rumbling from writers who felt that the essay was a way of getting out in front of possible accusations from women he's treated poorly

change display name (Jordan), Wednesday, 2 May 2018 21:12 (five years ago) link

I've been thinking something similar, although it may seem a cynical way of considering whether the explanatory potential of the sexual assault in relation to his later actions is overplayed

TiHYLH is plenty apologetic as it is, gets quite close to conveying a similar idea in Miss Lora, the story of Yunior's affair with an older woman:

It takes a long time to get over it. To get used to a life without a Secret. Even after it’s behind you and you’ve blocked her completely, you’re still afraid you’ll slip back to it. At Rutgers, where you’ve finally landed, you date like crazy, and every time it doesn’t work out you’re convinced that you have trouble with girls your own age. Because of her.

You certainly never talk about it. Until senior year, when you meet the mujerón of your dreams, the one who leaves her moreno boyfriend to date you, who drives all your little chickies out of the coop. She’s the one you finally trust. The one you finally tell.


niels, Thursday, 3 May 2018 09:21 (five years ago) link

It's a thorny topic, but heard some rumbling from writers who felt that the essay was a way of getting out in front of possible accusations from women he's treated poorly

― change display name (Jordan), Wednesday, May 2, 2018 5:12 PM (yesterday) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

i didn't make this connection but he's definitely got something coming for him if his short stories are as autobiographical as they seem...

flopson, Thursday, 3 May 2018 19:23 (five years ago) link

My twitter timeline is acting weird about him, anyone know what has happened?

Frederik B, Friday, 4 May 2018 13:04 (five years ago) link

There were a couple of good pieces written right after about how it's very important that he opened up about his trauma as a child but he harmed so many brown and black women who were trying to love and help him. So again, women become wounded, one dimensional footnotes on a man's journey to betterment.

Yerac, Friday, 4 May 2018 13:30 (five years ago) link

xpost Oh, yeah I see he was finally, specifically called out.

Yerac, Friday, 4 May 2018 13:52 (five years ago) link

As a grad student, I invited Junot Diaz to speak to a workshop on issues of representation in literature. I was an unknown wide-eyed 26 yo, and he used it as an opportunity to corner and forcibly kiss me. I'm far from the only one he's done this 2, I refuse to be silent anymore.

— zinziclemmons (@zinziclemmons) May 4, 2018

...and many others that followed this

Chuck_Tatum, Friday, 4 May 2018 13:55 (five years ago) link

i wish the dialogue around all this shit wasn't so one-dimensional. i need to get off twitter. it just makes me hate people

marcos, Friday, 4 May 2018 19:22 (five years ago) link

it's p obvious he's a major creep imo

flopson, Friday, 4 May 2018 20:41 (five years ago) link

The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao is an extremely horny book

( ͡☉ ͜ʖ ͡☉) (jim in vancouver), Friday, 4 May 2018 20:44 (five years ago) link

like def that kind of "literature" book written by a man where there's tons of sex stuff in there that seems extraneous but the writer obv really enjoyed writing it. which is not to besmirch libidinal motivations in art in general but like, yeah, it's notable

( ͡☉ ͜ʖ ͡☉) (jim in vancouver), Friday, 4 May 2018 20:46 (five years ago) link

eh i love the horniness of oscar wao. creepy vibe is more from his countless short stories about womanizing professors of creative writing at colleges in Boston. i guess the sister's boyfriend character in oscar wao is sort of close to that

flopson, Friday, 4 May 2018 20:54 (five years ago) link

yeah that's what i was thinking about

( ͡☉ ͜ʖ ͡☉) (jim in vancouver), Friday, 4 May 2018 21:02 (five years ago) link

There's nothing wrong with the creepiness or the raunch or the excess, as long as you're willing to overlook the occasional weapons-grade misogyny - which I was perfectly happy to do when I read Oscar Wao as a younger, much less empathetic reader ten years ago - I couldn't do that now. Also, TIHYLH was a snooze and it didn't make me want to revisit his work.

Chuck_Tatum, Friday, 4 May 2018 22:08 (five years ago) link

haven't read it for so long i thought the misogyny was the narrator who was the sister's boyfriend and was partly expressed through the "raunch"? maybe i should just admit to myself that i can't remember anything

( ͡☉ ͜ʖ ͡☉) (jim in vancouver), Friday, 4 May 2018 22:11 (five years ago) link

This thread is pretty messed up

During his tour for THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE HER, Junot Díaz did a Q&A at the grad program I'd just graduated from. When I made the mistake of asking him a question about his protagonist's unhealthy, pathological relationship with women, he went off for me for twenty minutes. https://t.co/7wuQOarBIJ

— Carmen Maria Machado (@carmenmmachado) May 4, 2018

I'm definitely someone who assumed there was some critical distance between Díaz and his characters, but looks like that really i any the case. Even more surprised because he is so outspoken politically.

Mario Meatwagon (Moodles), Friday, 4 May 2018 22:36 (five years ago) link

*really isn't the case

Mario Meatwagon (Moodles), Friday, 4 May 2018 22:36 (five years ago) link

five years pass...


new story out in last week’s new yorker — I assume it’s yunior and his family, though there aren’t a lot of names. it’s just ok imo

k3vin k., Wednesday, 8 November 2023 05:08 (one month ago) link

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