Díaz sings straight to the heart of urban Spanglish, and he’s not waiting for outsiders to catch up. His Spanish is untranslated, as is his freestyle hip-hop slang. Clearly, he’s writing for his people—Dominicans on the island and around New York City—and as far as he’s concerned, everyone else is just listening in … One of the most perceptive things about Díaz’s novel is the way it shows how machismo can crush both the men who don’t conform and those who do … Díaz combines heartbreaking realism with the wildest sort of comic-book fantasy, moving beyond the surrealism of Borges and Cortázar and the magical realism of Márquez and Allende to break new ground. Call it comix realism— it gives Díaz a tremendous verbal and emotional range.
The Dominican Republic he portrays in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a wild, beautiful, dangerous and contradictory place, both hopelessly impoverished and impossibly rich...a borderless anxiety zone that James Baldwin would describe as ‘the anguished diaspora’ … In no rush to spill the details of his hero's short, star-crossed adventures, Díaz maneuvers his plot through various time shifts, settings and narrators. From Santo Domingo to Washington Heights, N.Y., to Paterson, N.J., various generations of de Leons wrestle with fate and lose … I find sufficient meaning in the sheer joy of absorbing Díaz's sentences, each rolled out with all the nerdy, wordy flair of an audacious imagination and a vocabulary to match.
Díaz shows impressive high-low dexterity, flashing his geek credentials, his street wisdom and his literary learning with equal panache … Díaz’s novel also has a wild, capacious spirit, making it feel much larger than it is. Within its relatively compact span, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao contains an unruly multitude of styles and genres...Holding all this together — just barely, but in the end effectively — is a voice that is profane, lyrical, learned and tireless, a riot of accents and idioms coexisting within a single personality … This is a novel of assimilation, a fractured chronicle of the ambivalent, inexorable movement of the children of immigrants toward the American middle class, where the terrible, incredible stories of what parents and grandparents endured in the old country have become a genre in their own right.
Díaz's novel is a hell of a book. It doesn't care about categories. It's densely populated; it's obsessed with language. It's Dominican and American, not about immigration but diaspora, in which one family's dramas are entwined with a nation's, not about history as information but as dark-force destroyer … [Yunior’s] dazzling wordplay is impressive. But by the end, it is his tenderness and loyalty and melancholy that breaks the heart. That is wondrous in itself. It takes novelistic audacity for Díaz to make his narrator at first anonymous, unconcerned about whether his language is accessible, flawed and angry at his upbringing.
Both narrative voices are superb, deliciously casual and vibrant, shot through with wit and insight even when the material turns dramatic … If Oscar is not the first ‘ghetto nerd,’ he is one of the most vividly rendered, and Díaz does a masterful job of using Oscar's referential palette - from Tolkien's Middle-earth to Jack Kirby and Stan Lee's Marvel Universe - to illuminate the absurdity and horror of life under Trujillo and the daily strain of American marginality … Díaz's narrator can switch from arch, romantic prose to flippant slang, from English to Spanish, from manga to In the Time of the Butterflies. Some readers will find this level of democracy unrealistic - particularly once the novel's main narrator is revealed to be a college professor - not realizing that this kind of gleeful cross-stitching is a hallmark of hip-hop-generation fiction.
In his tale of a doomed, overweight young Dominican trundling through existence in New Jersey, all the while working slavishly on a sci-fi opus, Díaz has created a one-of-a-kind novel, a book several years in the making. Oscar Wao revels in its conviction that the intellectual and spiritual quandaries tackled by literature can be perfectly addressed in the voice - part street slang and Spanish, part lyrical and precise English - of a weightlifting lady-killer out of Rutgers … The specificity of Díaz's language and its rhythm are as American as little pink houses for you and me. Yet couching its depiction among working-class Latinos, attending college, no less, is rare in our literature … The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao [is] something exceedingly rare: a book in which a new America can recognize itself, but so can everyone else.
A relentless, capacious and sometimes spastic voice guides us through a saga spanning three generations and two nations … Yunior’s voice dominates nearly every page, and the novel finally reads most powerfully as his own coming-of-middle-age story, with its minor keys of loss, self-betrayal and regret...Oscar’s emotional rawness and authenticity, his willingness to die for love, exasperate and then engross Yunior, and the novel traces the strands of Oscar’s peculiar emotional DNA back through familial and national histories … An overactive imagination, even one as tragically self-delusional as Oscar’s will become, may be the only means of sustaining love’s power in a world gone mad with corruption and iniquity.
… [a] street-slangy, lit-punning, Caribbean-American novel of race, post-colonialism, brutality, family and love, not to mention extended virginity … Yunior writes in retrospect sometime after 1995, but in shifting time frames the book ranges over the preceding half-century, back to 1944, and surveys police-state repression, racism, poverty and good old intrafamily tensions, be it in the Dominican Republic or the U.S … an energetic and at points startling book.