Tag Archives: Junot Díaz

This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz

This Is How You Lose HerThus far, mega-award winning Junot Díaz (also recently bestowed the “Genius” moniker by the MacArthur Foundation) hasn’t written a book without his sort-of autobiographical stand-in Yunior de las Casas. Díaz’s 1996 fiction debut, Drownintroduced Yunior through interlinked short stories; a decade-plus later, Díaz turned over full narrative control to his pseudo-alter-ego in his 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winnerThe Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Yunior stars again in Díaz’s latest award-studded title which, if you choose to stick in your ears, you get the added experience of Díaz’s own narration. Both Drown and Oscar are superbly narrated by Johnathan Davis; here, the switch to Díaz is both disturbing (I know this is fiction, but all that first-person confession seems suddenly heavier) and rewarding (who doesn’t want to hear an author read his/her own writing … uh, except for maybe Michael Ondaatje’s surprisingly disappointing performance of his – also filled with autobiographical overlaps – The Cat’s Table).

Given the title (not to mention the endless fawning media attention), This is not a collection of lovey-dovey happy-endings. Of the nine stories, eight belong to Yunior who has an uncontrollable problem with fidelity. “I’m not a bad guy,” the first story – “The Sun, the Moon, the Stars” – opens, “I’m like everyone else: weak, full of mistakes, but basically good.” His cheated-on girlfriend disagrees: “She considers me a typical Dominican man: a sucio, an a**hole.” Having witnessed his father’s and brother’s wandering ways, Yunior thought he could be otherwise: “You had hoped the gene missed you, skipped a generation, but clearly you were kidding yourself,” he admits in “Miss Lora.” By the final story, “The Cheater’s Guide to Love,” Yunior’s sucio red-letter badge threatens permanence.

Half of Yunior’s eight stories expand his immigrant childhood into searching teenagerhood: the family’s not-so-warm New Jersey reunion with a cold, controlling father in “Invierno”; his brother Rafa’s teenage, testosterone-charged exploits in “Nilda”; Rafa’s leukemia with the neverending complications of his too-active love life in “The Pura Principle”; and Yunior’s own cheating-on-his-high-school-girlfriend extracurricular relationship with an older woman in “Miss Lora.” Yunior’s college and young adult experiences get confessionally aired in “Alma,” “Flaca,” and “The Sun, the Moon, the Stars,” then jumps ahead to Yunior as an almost-middle-aged Harvard professor who, in the novella-length “The Cheater’s Guide to Love,” suffers many wrenching lonely years after his fiancée discovers his staggering, well-documented, on-the-side record and (no surprise) leaves him.

While Yunior commands the spotlight – the majority of the women here are temporary diversions, even the pined-for fiancée – at least two women demand lasting attention: Yunior’s mother who is neglected, oppressed, abandoned, and finally liberated with a Spanglish coven regularly available for prayer and gossip; and Yasmin, the protagonist in the single story that doesn’t belong to Yunior, “Otravida, Otravez,” who is a Dominican immigrant whose lover has a letter-writing wife back in the DR.

Beyond the repetitively bad behavior in every story, Díaz imbues each cheating tale with layered depth, including challenges of immigration and assimilation, absent and abusive parents, isolation, socioeconomic barriers, gender gaps, and racial divides. Indeed, as Yunior proclaims, he’s “not a bad guy”; he’s just a horrible lover, but he can be a caring friend and – thanks to that ex who compiled his exploits into “the Doomsday Book” and mailed it to him with a note, “… for your next book” – he turns out to be quite the provocative storyteller.

Readers: Adult

Published: 2012

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, .Short Stories, Carribbean American

Drown by Junot Díaz

Talk about a surprisingly fortuitous bonus: If you get the audible version of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, included in the deal is Junot Díaz‘s debut title, Drown, a collection of 10 mostly-related short stories. That both Díaz titles are read with such fluency by Jonathan Davis melds the two together, as if each book is a complementary extension of the other.

If you haven’t discovered either book yet, the audible versions are highly recommended together. The main reason is Yunior, Oscar‘s narrator, who in spite of his near omniscient vantage point in the novel, reveals little about himself beyond his love for Oscar’s sister Lola which is never enough to curb his extracurricular exploits. Instead, Drown is where Yunior’s life gets revealed in snippets: his origins in the Dominican Republic, growing up with a mostly absent father who left for the United States, his adventures (sometimes brutal) with his older brother Rafa (“Ysrael”), the struggles his mother faces trying to raise her two sons abandoned and alone (“Aguantando”).

Meanwhile, in New York, Yunior’s father works numerous dead-end jobs, trying to figure out how to reunite his family, and falls into another marriage, another life (“Negocios”). The family is eventually reunited, adding a little sister for Rafa and Yunior. Yunior is prone to car sickness earning his father’s violent wrath (“Fiesta 1980″), worries about his sexuality (“Drown”), yet knows all the certain love moves for girls of different ethnicities (“How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl or Halfie”). As an adult, he’s mourning the loss of his girlfriend for whom he used to steal spending money at his pool table delivery job (“Edison, NJ), although he thinks he might get over his latest breakup by befriending the model in the apartment below whose lover has recently broken her heart (“Boyfriend”).

Díaz’s stories here, about Yunior or not, are all raw, visceral, and each aching with need. The rejected suffering endured in the Dominican Republic does not necessarily abate with an American address. Material and physical comforts (food, transportation, a home) are not enough for the good life, especially with fractured families that can’t seem to find a way back together, regardless of closing distance. Yunior and Oscar: two overlapping books, two diametric lives, one parallel quest for lasting true love.

Readers: Adult

Published: 1996

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, .Short Stories, Carribbean American

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Díaz

Here are a few new things I learned from Junot Díaz‘s 2008 Pulitzer Prize-winner that many of you already read long ago …

I get why Junot Díaz’s “guiltiest pleasure of all” is Naoki Urasawa’s 18-volume manga, Monster. I’m right there with him!

I now recognize the splattered gruesome-ness of the cover.

I understand why Díaz deserved the Pulitzer. Who else can go so seamlessly and effortlessly from Toto to Dungeons & Dragons to Scooby-Doo to Elvish … and spout perfect political theory, rant about colonialism, and enlighten you about “linguistic and computational complexity”?

I rejoice once more for Jonathan Davis who narrates Oscar Wao in the audible version, who rightfully won Audible.com’s 4th Annual Tournament of Champions of Audiobooks earlier this year with his recitation of Jack Weatherford’s Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. Davis works the same fluid magic with Oscar and company.

But back to Wao (WOW!). In spite of Oscar’s name on the cover, the contents are shared by his extended family, including the many unrequited loves of his life. Narrated by Yunior (who I’m assuming is the same Yunior from Díaz’s short story collection, Drown), the story begins and ends in the Dominican Republic with Oscar’s first and last amors.

Dovetailed with Oscar’s endless search for love – from his 7-year-old Dominican Casanova self, to his rotund New Jersey teenaged years obsessed with role-playing games, to his depressed overweight adult incarnation scribbling hundreds of pages of fantasy novels (not to mention his expansive erudite vocabulary) – is an intricate family saga that spans two countries, three generations, multiple decades, and the heinous reign of “Rafael Leónidas Trujillo Molina, the Dictatingest Dictator who ever Dictated.”

From the barest distance, Yunior – as Oscar’s friend and short-term roommate who should have been Oscar’s brother-in-law if only he could keep his manhood from wandering – omnisciently fills in Oscar’s family tree. Oscar’s protective older sister Lola is a feisty, independent woman forced to grow up too soon by a mother incapable of showing the love her daughter craves. Mother Beli with secrets of her own, is dying from cancer, but determined to protect her children any way she can. And Oscar and Lola’s waiting grandmother La Inca back in DR is the holder of an ancestral nightmare her grandchildren will never know, but from which we readers cannot turn away.

The resulting collage of legends, memories, curses, and history is as gorgeous as it is horrific. Brief, yes. Wondrous, yes. And shattering, funny, wrenching, inspiring, tortuous … and finally, hopeful. “The beauty! The beauty,” the final page hauntingly echoes …

Readers: Adult

Published: 2007

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, .Audio, .Fiction, Carribbean American

The Beacon Best of 2001: Great Writing by Women and Men of All Colors and Cultures edited by Junot Diaz

Beacon Best of 2001Title says it all. It’s the third edition, by the way, of The Beacon Best, in case you want to check out the others.

Review: “New and Notable,” aMagazine: Inside Asian America, December 2001/January 2002

Readers: Young Adult, Adult

Published: 2001

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Filed under ..Adult Readers, ..Young Adult Readers, .Fiction, .Nonfiction, .Poetry, .Short Stories