Junot Diaz | Harold Washington Library Center | Literary Events | Chicago Reader
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When: Fri., Sept. 12, 6 p.m. 2008
Phone: 312-747-4050
Diaz discusses his Pulitzer-winning novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao for Writers on the Record With Victoria Lautman. Oscar de Leon loves women. Fat, virginal, and cripplingly nerdy, he's the unlikely hero of Junot Diaz's freewheeling first novel whose "wondrous life" is marked by a series of unrequited passions that no mere reality can crush. It's the hopeful idiocy of Oscar's love—-more, even, than his girth (300-plus pounds) or his geekiness (he gets his nickname when, dressed up like Dr. Who for Halloween, someone tells him he looks like Oscar Wilde)—-that sets him in stark opposition to the stereotypical macho Dominican male, whose casual misogyny here is practically an arm of the state. Diaz's book bounces from Oscar's youth in Paterson, New Jersey, to a frustrated stint at Rutgers, to past and present scenes in the Dominican Republic—-the through line the damage an ancient fuku, or curse, has wreaked on Oscar's family. The tale's dusted with enough magical realism to suit the mostly tropical setting, but it's Diaz's expansive ear for language that makes the whole thing swing. Narrated (mostly) by Yunior, Oscar's onetime roommate and his sister Lola’s on-again, off-again flame, the story rushes across the page, words stumbling and jostling each other in a mashup of Spanglish and Dominican slang, veering off into discursive footnotes that'd make David Foster Wallace blush. And though it's Oscar's life story that gives the book its title, what really sticks are, unsurprisingly, Diaz's women: fierce, smokin' Lola and her equally ferocious, once-bodacious mother, Beli, whose own alternately rambunctious and tragic adolescence begins the arc that sets Oscar’s own beginning, middle, and end in motion. —-Martha Bayne

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