Study Guide

Ybón in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

By Junot Díaz


The Girl with Two Faces

Remember Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman? Well, that's basically Ybón, if Ybón were white and Oscar were actually rich and powerful. Oscar falls in love with her late in the novel, during a visit to Santo Domingo.

We think there are two disctinct ways to see Ybón: 

  1. through Oscar's rose-tinted glasses; and
  2. as the rest of the world might see her.

Let's start with how the rest of the world might see Ybón.

Ybón is an aging prostitute in her late thirties. She's still a good-looking gal, but her age is starting to show on her face (and we all know how many cultures derogate older women). Her skin is golden, her eyes are copper colored, and she has a wild tangle of hair.

And there's more to Ybón that screams "cultural outsider." She lives alone and sometimes drinks during the day. Astrology books and Paulo Coelho novels are her favorite reads. She has a paunch and crow's feet. There are pictures of her traveling through Europe when she was a much younger prostitute.

She is kind to Oscar and even endangers herself for him. Her boyfriend is the capitán. (A detail we might find inexplicable if it weren't one of the patterns of the book: women dating horrible, terrible, no-good men.)

Oscar's Girl Wonder

Then, there's Oscar's romantic view of Ybón. He thinks she has reached a golden twilight before middle age. She seems, to Oscar, "mad open, mad worldly, [and] had the sort of intense zipper-gravity that hot middle-aged women exude effortlessly" (

In fact, Oscar sees in Ybón all of the qualities we listed above. Only, he sees these qualities in a better light. Fact: Oscar sees Ybón as his destiny.

Oscar thinks that Ybón is not only kind, but that she has a heart of gold. Her past, her profession, and her moods make her complicated… and more attractive. She is gorgeous, to Oscar, and perhaps she does love him. This is enough to convince Oscar that she is the beginning of his real life.

And maybe she is. Ybón certainly breaks a pattern for Oscar: unlike all of his other crushes, she returns his affection. "The Final Letter" describes moments of real tenderness between the two lovers.

You have to remember, though, that Oscar and Ybón incite her authoritarian boyfriend to murder Oscar. It seems to us that Ybón both breaks Oscar's curse while also invoking—full force—Trujillo's curse. The fukú.

When all is said and done, we can't decide if Ybón was the best or the worst thing that ever happened to Oscar Wao. But it's Oscar's unequivocal opinion on the matter that ends this novel.