Que calidad! Junot Díaz’s masterpiece churns and flows with an onrush and a stupendous
range of voice, from street-wise to spine-shockingly tender, as it hits every possible
note—high, low, and in-between—and zings in historical footnotes about the brutal regime
of Rafael Trujillo (often combatively, amusingly sardonic) that take root and bloom
straight into the book’s center. The prose sings with manic energy and brilliant, wild
asides and explodes with a steady beat of Spanglish as it presents garden-variety
inhumanity—the taunts that the nerdy Oscar suffers in his hapless quest for anything
resembling a stolen moment—and the farthest reaches of nightmare as the Cabral family
gets thrown, full-force or tangentially, against the “Trujillato” legacy. Oscar’s
grandfather, Abelard, was tortured and imprisoned, ostensibly for one joke about the
dictator, and Abelard’s daughter, Belicia, is dogged all the way to her new life in
New Jersey by her own refusal to submit to oppression.
Yunior, our narrator and the often-wayward lover of Oscar’s sister, Lola, swerves from
laugh-out-loud humor to a beauty in the finale that’s among the most moving (and unexpected)
you’ll hope to read. A defiance about love marked Belicia so heavily with history that
she’s weighted-down and ferocious. Oscar is no heroic crusader, and if there’s any call
to combat history, it lurks far below the surface of his bumbling, earnest, sci-fi obsessed
daily life. And yet it is Oscar, in the end, who combats terror, trumps it, with love;
it is Oscar who makes a mad, sacrificial-lamb case for the supremacy of zafa (redemptive
luck) over fukú (curse, especially in his family) by the simple act of being himself, by
caring more about a person than about the past. His courage, fuelled by stubborn, immovable
yearning, might just break history’s stranglehold.
—Katherine Vaz, 2008 finalist judge
2008 Fiction Winner
(Click play to see acceptance speech at awards dinner.)
Junot Díaz The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Born in Santo Domingo, the Dominican Republic, and raised there and in New Jersey, Junot Díaz graduated from
Rutgers and received an MFA from Cornell. He lives in New York City and Boston, and is a tenured professor at MIT.
His first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2008.
The novel also won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Best Fiction of 2007, the Mercantile Library Center’s
John Sargent Prize for First Novel in 2007, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award and was nominated for an NAACP Image Award
and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao was also a New York Times
Notable Book of 2007 and Time magazine’s Book of the Year.
Junot Díaz has had his fiction published in The New Yorker and The Paris Review, and four times in
The Best American Short Stories. His critically praised, bestselling debut book, Drown, led to his
inclusion among Newsweek’s “New Faces of 1996” – the only writer in the group. The New Yorker placed
him on a list of the twenty top writers for the twenty-first century. Díaz has won the Eugene McDermott Award,
the Lila Wallace–Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award, the PEN/Malamud Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Radcliffe Institute
for Advanced Study Fellowship, a U.S.-Japan Creative Artists Fellowship from the NEA, and most recently the
Rome Fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
* * *
“Those of us who have lived without peace know of its elemental importance and yet how few cultures
and institutions and organizations honor or recognize or promote this essential and elusive human
practice. On many levels this award honors what is best in us as a people and is a testament to the
forward-looking humanity of the Dayton Literary Peace Prize. It is a tremendous honor for me and the
communities that made me possible.”