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Drown by Junot Díaz
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's review
Jun 03, 2011

really liked it

Many people are probably familiar with Junot Diaz’s first novel “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” which defies categorization so well that I could only describe it as Gabriel Garcia Marquez meets Star Trek meets Alan Moore meets Kanye West. But before Oscar Wao reached the bookshelves, Diaz first published “Drown” a collection of short stories set in the ghettos of the Dominican Republic and New Jersey, but most of all in the invisible psychic landscape of the immigrants who move from the first to the latter, and how they redefine their American identity. If it is true that cultures speak loudest at their moment of their assimilation, then it should come as no surprise that America, with its seemingly limitless powers of cultural absorption, is so rich with the ghost-voices of other nations. Diaz begins his collection of stories with an epigraph from the Cuban poet Gustavo Perez Firmat which says “The fact that I/am writing to you/in English/already falsifies what I/wanted to tell you/ My subject:/how to explain to you that I/don’t belong to English/though I belong nowhere else.”
In five of these ten stories, his narrator is young Ramon de las Casas, called Yunior, whose father abandons his wife and children for years before returning to the Dominican Republic and bringing them back with him to New Jersey. In other stories, the nameless tellers may or may not be Yunior, but they’re all young Latino men with the same well-defended sensitivity, uneasy relations with women and obsessive watchfulness. Each one of these stories are compelling, although my favorite might be “How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie” where he gets in some good cynical cracks about the way to sweet-talk a girl into bed, with special modifications in the seduction-rap for each shade of pigment. “Dinner will be tense. You are not good at talking to people you don’t know. A halfie will tell you that her parents met in the Movement, will say back then people thought it a daring thing to do. It will sound like something her parents made her memorize.”
The intertwined narratives tell of bittersweet adolescence, the careful crafting of masculinity, and the tangled communities that pull us in many directions. In short, the stories are dark and lovely and highly recommended.
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