Like DROWN, this collection of linked short stories chronicles the life of Yunior, a Dominican emigre to the USA. THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE HER picks up th...moreLike DROWN, this collection of linked short stories chronicles the life of Yunior, a Dominican emigre to the USA. THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE HER picks up the story up during Yunior's twenties, painting a portrait of a guy with no visible anchor when it comes to relationships with women.
It's not for lack of trying, merely that he has only the most rudimentary grasp of what he's looking for, as though he's periodically asking, and then misunderstanding, 'what are women for'. His wit, serious character and island charisma mean that he's never short of female company, he knows how to attract the easy girls and the generous girls and even the ones who won't give it up so easy.
Yunior just doesn't know how to keep them. It's kind of funny but also heartbreaking to see how the only lesson he keeps learning is: THIS is how you lose her.
For a book that did only this, with the brutal honesty and charm of this collection, you'd give 5 stars. But where THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE HER transcends is in the clever portrayal of the experience of being part of the Dominican diaspora, and specifically, in the cold, unfriendly climes of New Jersey and then the (surprisingly!) blithe racism of Boston.
This is territory in which Junot Diaz has consistently excelled; it's also where his own, not entirely dissimilar life experience has been pure gold. By going back to Yunior's childhood, with tales like 'Invierno', and 'Miss Lora', and the stories about his evil brother's death from cancer, Diaz gently suggests reasons for why Yunior may have been set, inexorably, upon the path to perdition.
You feel for Yunior and want him to succeed, for his bruised heart to find love and understand how this time, to keep it.(less)
I bought this book after becoming acquainted with the author's writing via Twitter. His early morning tweets of news articles make terrific reading, c...moreI bought this book after becoming acquainted with the author's writing via Twitter. His early morning tweets of news articles make terrific reading, cutting across areas of education, philosophy, science, religion, technology and humour. You get a sense of a genuine 'renaissance man', and that's very much the delivery of 'The Brain Is Wider Than The Sky'.
"The Brain Is Wider Than The Sky" has a simple concept at its heart too; that simple solutions don't work for a complex world. Anyone who's spent time trying to prise nature's secrets from inside the cell knows from experience that this is true. Or any computer technician. Why do these systems behave in sometimes unpredictable ways? Because they are complex.
But this 'simple concept' is countercultural within the mainstream. Mainstream culture encourages us to believe that character is a matter of 'simple' genetics, one gene equals one phenotype, to Keep It Simple Stupid and a whole lot more.
When the mainstream has embraced something so fundamentally wrong, terrible consequences will follow. Banks will fail. The environment will falter. "The Brain Is Wider Than The Sky" seeks to explain why the mainstream drive for 'simplicity' is wrong and to show how it's leading us to hell in a hand-basket.
Many popular science/technology/economics books take a simple concept that is usually contentious and expound on it with example after example, giving very little in the way of new ideas beyond chapter four. This book, however, has chewy food for thought all the way to the end.
The author achieves this through his cross-disciplinary erudition and via the input of a wide network of renown specialists from the fields of art, economics, medicine and science. He even subjects himself to a two-hour long MRI scan to study the brain, which is what I'd call Commitment.
There may be a new writer for me to swoon over. Haruki Murakami may be given a run for his money.
Here’s a book I’d been waiting to read until it came out in paperback and I had a really good stretch of uninterrupted time to enjoy it. Now I know I don’t usually blog about new books, because well, there are so many brilliant book review blogs, I’d rather leave that to them.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (by Junot Diaz) though, was a crystal-exploding-in-my-cortex type of book. You know when you feel like a book was written specially for you?
This one won the Pulitzer Prize, too. So it must be good.
Reading Oscar Wao felt to me like reading a funky hip take on Gabriel Garcia Marquez/Mario Vargas Llosa, set to a reggaeton rhythm…but about a character whose references were straight out of my own young-adulthood; Dungeons and Dragons, Blake’s 7 and Doctor Who, Watchmen, Lord of the Rings.
To my young blog readers – this is probably one to save until you are an adult. I would NOT want you to tell your parents I recommended this book. Like many works of Latin American literature, especially those set in brutal dicatorships, there are tales of violent atrocities and some extremely ‘adult’ situations.
To the old fogeys among you, READ THIS! It’s probably unlike any book you’ve ever read. It’s unlike any book I’ve ever read but then I can’t imagine there being another book like it.
Here’s the story: Oscar is a fat nerdy boy growing up in New Jersey. He adores comic books, fantasy role-playing games and sci-fi, he also falls hopelessly in love with girls all over the place but to no avail. Oh the shame of it, because he for all his geekery he is still a Dominican (from the Dominican Republic – it’s the Spanish part of the island of Hispaniola, the other half is French/African Haiti).
Dominican men are meant to be super-macho! They’re akin to Afo-Cubans – part African, part Spanish – 100% macho. Oscar’s mum nods with approval when aged 7 he dates two little girls at once. Once they dump him, Oscar’s romantic life is effectively over. Until much later, when fate returns him to the island of his heritage – and final destiny.
The story of Oscar is narrated with dispassionate energy by Yunior, a close friend. It’s not just Oscar’s tale but the island story of his mother and grandfather, just two of the many, many victims of the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo. Hideous horrible violent and utterly unjust things happen to his mother and her family. It’s all described by Yunior with the pitiless yet sympathetic omniscience that is similar to the sweeping narratives of Garcia Marquez and Vargas Llosa. More minimalism though, which I like. Which I admire, too.
Historical footnotes provide more information – and it’s here that the voice becomes irreverently venomous. The DR sure was a total rathole (putting it VERY mildly) during Trujillo’s reign, a nightmare totalitarian state where justice ceased to exist and fear ruled supreme.
In common with other Great Writers, it’s not just the power of the story but the evidence of wisdom, shrewd observations of depths of human truths which mark out this author. Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant.
Note to authors. Set your story in a totalitarian state and watch as plot just falls out. When every single person might legitimately be a liar who is about to feed your hero to a torture machine, the streets are paved with pure High Drama.(less)
My favourite book of all time, I think. I re-read it every few years. The most intimidating book for an author to read! No review I could write would...moreMy favourite book of all time, I think. I re-read it every few years. The most intimidating book for an author to read! No review I could write would do it justice. READ THIS BOOK!(less)
Did we just imagine the Enlightenment? Because according to Francis Wheen, its enduring power to persuade might be on the wane. This is a riveting acc...moreDid we just imagine the Enlightenment? Because according to Francis Wheen, its enduring power to persuade might be on the wane. This is a riveting account about the 'rise' of emotion-led thinking versus rationality, as evidenced by phenomena such as the fascination with alternative medicine, happy-clappy business gurus, the enthusiasm with collective grief at the death of Princess Diana. The darker side to this is the rise of religious fundamentalism. Written in 2004 whilst the world was still reeling with shock from the 9/11 terrorist attacks, this book stands the test of time. In fact it seems rather prescient. The swivel-eyed thinking of the financial markets are touched upon, but even Francis Wheen didn't anticipate how far and how disastrously 'mumbo jumbo' thinking would go on to affect the world. Read it and weep...(less)