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Junot Diaz Reads From His 'Wondrous' Tale

Book Tour is a Web feature and podcast. Each week, we present leading authors of fiction and nonfiction as they read from and discuss their work.

The virtues of Junot Diaz's Pulitzer Prize-winning debut novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, nearly drove critics to distraction. The New York Times described his inimitable voice as "profane, lyrical, learned and tireless." It is. Please gird yourself for the profane parts before listening.

Diaz first seized the attention and imagination of readers with Drown, his 1996 collection of short stories. It was an instant American classic. Assigned in thousands of high schools and universities across the United States, to the rapturous reception of students who adored Diaz's tales of immigrant kids scraping by, falling in love, getting depressed and growing up, Drown's success became, in some ways, a problem. Awash in literary celebrity and openly anxious about the high expectations for his next book, Diaz struggled with writer's block for over a decade, in what he once described as a "perfect storm of insecurity and madness and pressure."

But Diaz soared with his follow-up effort. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is a lavish epic that twins the stories of two immigrant kids in the New York City suburbs with the dark drama of their family roots in the Dominican Republic.

Drawing as deeply from Latin American political history as it does from contemporary fan-boy culture, the story dazzles with bilinguistic derring-do that's somehow both rigorous and playful. His characters are as recognizable as the teenagers you might see (or be) on the bus, on the street or around the dinner table — and as golden, hopeful, flush and flawed.

This reading of the paperback edition of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao took place in September 2008 at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C.

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Neda Ulaby
Neda Ulaby reports on arts, entertainment, and cultural trends for NPR's Arts Desk.