Oscar Wao

May 23, 2009

It’s a mystery to me why some quality works of literature garner rave reviews and prestigious awards and others don’t. An example of this is The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz. While I appreciated the narrative and style, and the somewhat experimental use of footnotes, I mostly wanted to edit the thing as I was reading it.

For the hell of it, I sketched a simple outline of the novel’s structure in the hopes of better understanding/revealing its so-called complexity.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao


Part 1

Chapter 1: GhettoNerd at the End of the World, 1974 – 1987
Introduces Oscar and his mother, sister and uncle, situates him in his environment as a kid growing up in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan. It’s told in the omniscient third-person.

Chapter 2: Wildwood, 1982 – 1987
Focuses on Oscar’s sister, Lola; chapter is narrated in the first-person by the sister.

Chapter 3: The Three Heartbreaks of Belicia Cabral, 1955 – 1962
It is the story of Oscar’s mother, Belicia Cabral. The narration in this chapter returns to the third-person.

Chapter 4: Sentimental Education, 1988 – 1992
The chapter is narrated from the point of view of Yunior, Oscar’s sister’s – Lola’s – sometimes boyfriend and friend as well as Oscar’s reluctant roommate in College. This chapter discusses overweight nerdy Oscar’s sad experience in College. It’s told in the first-person.

Part 2

Chapter 5: Poor Abelard, 1944 – 1946
It is about Oscar’s grandfather and Belicia’s father, a wealthy doctor in the Dominican Republic, and his family’s calamitous fall from grace vis à vis the dictator Trujillo. This chapter is narrated in the third-person.

Chapter 6: Land of the Lost, 1992 – 1995
About Oscar’s life post-university and his vacation in DR where he falls in love with a prostitute who lives next door to his grandmother – who’s really his grandfather’s cousin – and finally gains confidence in himself. This chapter is narrated in the third-person.

Part 3

Chapter 7: The Final Voyage
The chapter is narrated by Yunior – who has insight into much of what Oscar experiences although he isn’t there. While he finds love Oscar is ultimately murdered by the prostitute’s violent policeman boyfriend.

Chapter 8: The End of the Story
Oscar is dead. The rest of the novel is narrated by Yunior – in the first-person – who has taken it upon himself to write Oscar’s family’s story which is gathered from his own knowledge of Oscar’s life and his family history as well as his personal research. Oscar was going to write this book himself but the manuscript was lost or never mailed before his death.

*Much of the story is also about the DR and Trujillo’s dictatorship – factual details are provided in copious footnotes.

**The total number of pages is 352. (I read the Riverhead hard cover edition).


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