In the Books Section:
- Oscar de Leon, aka Oscar Wao
- Lola – Oscar's sister
- Hypatia Belicia Cabral – Oscar and Lola's mother
- La Inca – DR family member who took in Beli as a wounded girl and
- Yunior – Oscar's friend and one-time roommate
- Abelard Luis Cabral
- Trujillo – dictator of the DR
- Fuku and zafa
- Ybon – Oscar's last girlfriend
The novel is divided up into different sections that center around
specific relatives of Oscar Wao's family:
- 1974-1987 - "GhettoNerd at the End of the World" - Oscar Wao
- 1982-1985 - "Wildwood" - Lola
- 1955-1962 - "The Three Heartbreaks of Belicia Cabral" - Hypatia
- 1988-1992 - "Sentimental Education" - Oscar Wao and Yunior
- 1944-1946 - "Poor Abelard" - Abelard Luis Cabral
- 1992-1995 - "Land of the Lost" - Oscar Wao
- "The Final Voyage" - Oscar Wao
- "The End of the Story" - Oscar Wao and Yunior
- I read somewhere that this novel takes Geek Chic to a new level. Do
the references to D&D, Lord of the Rings, Comic Books, etc. make it
more exciting or real for SF aficionados? Does it detract from the
mundane crowd? Or is there something there for everyone? Is this a
Geek Chic novel?
- Throughout the novel, Spanish words and phrases appear
unaccompanied by their English translations. Did this work? How would
the novel have been different if Díaz had stopped to provide English
translations at every turn? Why does Díaz not italicize the Spanish
words (the way foreign words are usually italicized in English-language text)?
- The book centers on the story of Oscar and his family—and yet the
majority of the book is narrated by Yunior, who is not part of the
family, and only plays a relatively minor role in the events of the
story. Yunior even calls himself “The Watcher,” underscoring his
outsider status in the story. What is the effect of having a relative
outsider tell the story of Oscar and his family, rather than having
someone in the family tell it? And why do you think Díaz waits for so
long at the beginning of the book to reveal who the narrator is?
- Díaz, in the voice of the narrator, often employs footnotes to
explain the history or context of a certain passage or sentence in the
main text. Why do you think he chose to convey historical facts and
anecdotes in footnote form? How would the novel have read differently
if the content of the footnotes had been integrated into the main
text? What if the footnotes (and the information in them) had been
eliminated altogether? Did you read them? Did you like them?
- In many ways, Yunior and Oscar are polar opposites. While Yunior
can get as many women as he wants, he seems to have little capacity
for fidelity or true love. Oscar, by contrast, holds love above all
else—and yet cannot find a girlfriend no matter how hard he tries. Is
it fair to say that Yunior is Oscar’s foil—underscoring everything
Oscar is not—and vice versa? Or are they actually more alike than they
seem on the surface?
- The narrator says “Dominicans are Caribbean and therefore have an
extraordinary tolerance for extreme phenomena. How else could we have
survived what we survived?” (p. 149). What does he mean by that? Could
Oscar’s obsession with science fiction and the “speculative genres” be
seen as a kind of extension of his ancestors’ belief in “extreme
phenomena”? Was that his method of coping? Is there a parallel with
growing up nerdy in today's society?
- Yunior characterizes himself as a super macho, womanizing jock-type—and yet in narrating the book, his writing is riddled with reference
to nerdy topics like the Fantastic Four and Lord of the Rings. In
other words, there seems to be a schism between Yunior the character
and Yunior the writer. Why do you think that is? What could Díaz be
trying to say by making Yunior’s character so seemingly contradictory?
Why is Yunior "writing" this book? What is zafa?
- For Oscar, his obsession with fantasy and science fiction becomes
isolating, separating him from his peers so much so that he almost
cannot communicate with them—as if he speaks a different language (and
at one point he actually speaks in Elvish). How are other characters
in the book—for instance, Belicia growing up in the Dominican
Republic, or Abelard under the dictatorship of Trujillo, similarly
isolated? And how are their forms of isolation different? How are they
- We know from the start that Oscar is destined to die in the course
of the book—the title suggests as much, and there are references to
his death throughout the book (“Mister. Later [Lola would] want to put
that on his gravestone but no one would let her, not even me.” (p.
36)). Why do you think Díaz chose to reveal this from the start? How
does Díaz manage to create suspense and hold the reader’s attention
even though we already know the final outcome for Oscar? Did it
actually make the book more suspenseful, knowing that Oscar was going
to die? Any parallels with "Chronicle of a Death Foretold" by Gabriel
- The author, the primary narrator, and the protagonist of the book
are all male, but some of the strongest characters and voices in the
book (La Inca, Beli, Lola) are female. Who do you think makes the
strongest, boldest decisions in the book? Given the machismo and
swagger of the narrative voice, how does the author express the
strength of the female characters? Do you think there is an
intentional comment in the contrast between that masculine voice and
the strong female characters?
- There are a few chapters in the book in which Lola takes over the
narration and tells her story in her own words. Why do you think it is
important to the novel to let Lola have a chance to speak for herself?
Do you think Díaz is as successful in creating a female narrative
voice as he is the male one?
- How much of her own story do you think Belicia shared with her
children? How much do you think Belicia knew about her father
Abelard’s story? How does Yunior or Lola know what happened? Is
Oscar's family really cursed? Do you think that believing you are
cursed affects how you live and what happens to you? Could either Beli
or Oscar have escaped their fate? Why does La Inca constantly remind
Beli that she is a Cabral, her father was a doctor, her mother was a
nurse? How does the fuku figure in La Inca's life?
- The image of a mongoose with golden eyes and the man without a
face appear at critical moments and to various characters throughout
the book. What do these images represent? Why do you think Díaz chose
these images in particular? When they do appear, do you think you are
supposed to take them literally? For instance, did you believe that a
mongoose appeared to Belicia and spoke to her? Did she believe it?
(BTW, Mongoose were introduced in the early 1800s to control rats in
the sugar fields, and quickly got out of hand. Fuku?)
- While Oscar’s story is central to the novel, the book is not
told in his voice, and there are many chapters in which Oscar does not
figure at all, and others in which he only plays a fairly minor role.
Who do you consider the true protagonist of the novel? Oscar? Yunior?
Belicia? The entire de Leon and Cabral family? The fukú? What internal
story did you like best, and was one more important than another?
- Oscar is very far from the traditional model of a “hero.” Other
characters in the book are more traditionally heroic, making bold
decisions on behalf of others to protect them—for instance, La Inca
rescuing young Belicia, or Abelard trying to protect his daughters. In
the end, do you think Oscar is heroic or foolish? And are those other
characters—La Inca, Abelard—more or less heroic than Oscar?
- During the course of the book, many of the characters try to
teach Oscar many things—especially Yunior, who tries to teach him how
to lose weight, how to attract women, how to behave in social
situations. Do any characters not try to teach Oscar anything, and
just accept him as who he is? How much does Oscar actually learn from
anyone? And in the end, what does Oscar teach Yunior, and the other
characters if anything?
- This novel riffs off of Hemmingway's "The Short Happy Life of
Francis Macomber" in more ways than the title. Is it lucky to die
fulfilled at the top of your form? What does that say about the fuku?
Does this have anything to do with the foreshadowed package to end the
fuku that never arrives? Why didn't it arrive?
- Do you think this book deserved the Pulitzer Prize?