The narrator. Yunior is a Dominican immigrant living in New Jersey who recounts the story of Oscar and the de León/Cabral family. Yunior first met Oscar at Rutgers University, where the two became roommates. Yunior initially showed Oscar kindness in an attempt to court Oscar’s sister, Lola. Eventually, they became friends, and Yunior felt protective of Oscar. As a narrator, Yunior has a distinctive voice that ranges from crass and irreverent to serious and sophisticated. His language also frequently incorporates English and Hispanic slang as well as Spanish words and phrases.
Read an in-depth analysis of Yunior .
The protagonist. Nicknamed “Oscar Wao,” the novel’s protagonist is an overweight Dominican boy who grew up in Paterson, New Jersey. Oscar had a bookish sensibility from a young age. As an adolescent he developed a hardcore enthusiasm for science fiction and fantasy and nurtured an ambition to write his own genre fiction and become “the Dominican Tolkien.” Oscar spent much of his short life hopelessly in love with women but afraid that no woman would ever reciprocate his love. Feelings of rejection periodically sent him into spirals of severe depression.
Oscar’s older sister. From an early age, Lola proved to be tough and independent. Her tomboyish behavior resulted in a complicated relationship with her mother that grew increasingly antagonistic during her teenage years. Despite the tension at home, Lola felt deeply protective of Oscar. She had a long-term relationship with Yunior, and she narrates two short sections of the book.
Oscar and Lola’s mother. Known as Beli, she was born to the respectable but doomed Cabral family. Beli never knew her parents. She grew up in the care of her father’s cousin La Inca. Beli’s fiercely independent personality got her into trouble with a Dominican gangster. After getting beaten nearly to death, Beli left the Dominican Republic for New York. A man she met on the plane fathered her two children then left them. Beli worked two to three jobs at a time, and she had an antagonistic relationship with her children.
Beli’s father. Abelard was a prominent surgeon who received his medical training in Mexico. He and his family fell from grace when he made an off-color joke that allegedly insulted Trujillo. The dictator had Abelard tortured and imprisoned for the rest of his life. According to Yunior’s account, Abelard’s imprisonment initiated the curse, or fukú, on the Cabral family.
Beli’s mother. Socorro was a beautiful woman and a gifted nurse practitioner who ran a respectable clinic with her husband. Though skilled at her work and undaunted by medical emergencies, her husband’s arrest and imprisonment broke her. Soon after giving birth to her third daughter, Beli, Socorro committed suicide by jumping in front of a train.
Oscar and Lola’s grandmother. Though Oscar and Lola refer to La Inca as their “abuela,” or grandmother, she was technically Beli’s father’s cousin, and she took Beli in after the girl’s father was imprisoned and her mother committed suicide. Even after Beli left the Dominican Republic, La Inca remained an important figure in her life and in the lives of her children.
Oscar’s final love interest. Oscar fell in love with Ybón during the summer he spent in the Dominican Republic with his family. About ten years older than Oscar and an alcoholic, Ybón was a “semiretired” prostitute who lived two houses down from La Inca. Though Ybón reciprocated Oscar’s feelings, her relationship with an abusive police officer put a violent end to her affair with Oscar.
Ybón’s other lover. The Capitán was a Dominican police officer who occasionally sought Ybón’s services. He grew intensely jealous when he learned about Oscar, and he ordered his cronies to take Oscar out to the cane fields and beat him. The Capitán coerced Ybón into marrying him, and when Oscar returned to the Dominican Republic, he had Oscar killed.
Beli’s first love. Known only as “the Gangster” in the novel, this man was a criminal who had ties to the Trujillo regime. His parents had kicked him out of the house at age seven. Soon thereafter, he fell in with a rough crowd, and he made his first contract kill at fourteen. Beli met him at a club called El Hollywood, and he pursued her romantically. She fell in love with him, and he promised to marry her. Eventually, she learned he was already married to Trujillo’s sister, a fact that led to a near-fatal attack on Beli’s life.
Oscar and Lola’s uncle. After his final round of incarceration, Rudolfo came to live with Oscar’s family in Paterson. He had a voracious sexual appetite and a heroin addiction.
Oscar’s first major love interest. Oscar met Ana in an SAT test prep class and fell head over heels in love with her. She was beautiful, loud-spoken, and chubby, and she read sexually provocative books. At first, they hung out regularly, but Oscar grew jealous when Ana reunited with her ex-boyfriend, an abusive older man named Manny. Oscar eventually confessed his love, but Ana rejected him.
Ana’s abusive older boyfriend. Manny dated Ana before she met Oscar. Manny joined the Army, and when he returned, he started dating Ana again. His abusive treatment of Ana made Oscar so angry that he thought about killing him.
Oscar’s first college love interest. Oscar met Jenni at Rutgers. She was a Puerto Rican goth whose friends called her “La Jablesse,” referring to a Caribbean female demon and temptress. Oscar’s budding friendship with Jenni made Yunior jealous since he had once approached her and been rejected. Jenni treated Oscar as a friend, and her rejection sent him into a deep depression.
Oscar’s colleague at Don Bosco Tech. Nataly was Oscar’s only friend at Don Bosco, the school where he taught after graduating from Rutgers. She had previously spent four years institutionalized in a mental hospital. She was a Wiccan and reminded him of Jenni Muñoz. Oscar harbored strange sexual fantasies about her.
One of Oscar’s first girlfriends. Oscar fell in love with Olga when he was seven years old. She was his girlfriend for a week, while he also dated Maritza Chacón. Beli forbid Olga from coming over since she was Puerto Rican. For this reason, Oscar dumped her in favor of Maritza. Oscar thought about Olga for the rest of his life.
One of Oscar’s first girlfriends. Oscar fell in love with Maritza when he was seven years old. She was his girlfriend for a week, while he also dated Olga Polanco. After he dumped Olga, a classmate named Nelson Pedro stole Maritza’s affections. Oscar thought about Maritza for the rest of his life.
Oscar’s boyhood friends. Despite being best friends from an early age, in adolescence, Al and Miggs grew apart from Oscar and started to exclude him from their activities. Neither Al nor Miggs finished college, and they ended up working together at a local Blockbuster Video.
Lola’s teenage friends. The three young women were friends with Lola during their teenage years. Oscar had a crush on all three, and they fed his adolescent sexual fantasies.
Lola’s high school friend. Karen was a goth who spiked her hair and dressed in black. Lola admired Karen’s look, which inspired Lola to shave her head.
Lola’s high school boyfriend. Lola dated Aldo during a rebellious phase in her teenage years. He was white and slightly older than her, and she ran away to live with him and his racist father at the Jersey Shore. She lost her virginity to Aldo, and their relationship quickly soured.
Lola’s friend in the Dominican Republic. Lola befriended Rosío when her mother sent Lola to live with La Inca in Baní.
Lola’s boyfriend in the Dominican Republic. Lola dated Max when her mother sent her to live with La Inca. He died in a traffic accident while working as a reel runner, transporting movie reels from theater to theater.
Yunior’s friends. They bullied Oscar during his sophomore year at Rutgers.
A taxi driver in Santo Domingo. Clives escorted Oscar everywhere in the city and saved his life after the Capitán’s cronies left him for dead. Later, after Oscar’s murder, Clives returned his body to his family.
Lola’s daughter. Some years after the main events of the novel, Lola gave birth to a daughter named Isis. Yunior imagines Isis coming to him when she grows up, seeking to learn about her family’s history.
Beli’s first crush. Beli met Jack at the Colegio El Redentor, where La Inca sent her to receive a top-notch education. Jack was an entitled light-skinned boy and the son of a colonel in the Dominican army. Beli fell in love with him and tried to win his affections. Eventually, he showed interest in her, but his father sent him to a military school after he and Beli were caught having sex. Jack later became a confidante to Trujillo’s son.
Beli’s friend. Dorca was the daughter of La Inca’s housekeeper and became friends with Beli soon after she came to live with La Inca.
Beli’s classmate at El Redentor. Mauricio disappeared after writing a school essay expressing hope that the Dominican Republic would become a democracy.
Brothers and owners of the Palacio Peking. Juan and José were born in China and grew up in the Philippines. They immigrated to the Dominican Republic and opened the only Chinese restaurant in Santo Domingo. They gave Beli her first job as a waitress. They cared for her and helped her in times of need.
Beli’s fellow staff at the Palacio Peking.
A waitress at the Palacio Peking. Constantina brought Beli to El Hollywood, the club where she first met the Gangster.
One of Beli’s early suitors. Arquimedes was a young, idealist student who championed Communist politics. Beli remained friendly with him but never engaged in any intimacy with him.
Abelard and Socorro’s first daughter. Jacquelyn was beautiful, brilliant, and ambitious. She hoped to follow in her father’s footsteps and become a physician, but she drowned in a shallow pool shortly after her father’s imprisonment and her mother’s suicide.
Abelard and Socorro’s second daughter. Like her elder sister, she died in mysterious circumstances after her father’s imprisonment and her mother’s suicide.
Abelard’s mistress. Lydia was Abelard’s first lover, but she rejected his marriage proposal. She became his mistress after he married Socorro and continued to care for him and his family.
Abelard’s longtime neighbor and friend. Marcus served as one of Abelard’s main confidants. Secretly, however, he worked for Trujillo, and he likely reported Abelard’s off-color joke about the dictator.
The Cabral family’s servant at Casa Hatüey.
Beli’s caretaker after Socorro’s death.