Drown by Junot Diaz

Drown

Diaz’s first short story collection, Drown, was published back in 1996. I read his later collection, This Is How You Lose Her, last year and both books showcase Diaz’s writing in a similar way. They even share a character, Yunior.

These ten stories are rooted in the immigrant experience, from surviving in the barrios of Santo Domingo to adjusting to life in New Jersey. Diaz writes in a style that is unique, not afraid to use a generous amount of Spanish throughout (there is a glossary at the back but I found that high school Spanish was enough, and often the meanings were easily deduced from the context of the sentence). I read these stories wondering how much material is actually autobiographical, so authentic are the sentences Diaz puts together. Images are vibrant, and it is unapologetic writing. This is how people behave, and if it makes them unsympathetic who cares because that’s how they live.

This is a strong collection, but there were a few stories that I didn’t really engage in – generally these are those which focus on a male protagonist lusting after some girl or another (a theme which I felt Diaz had become stronger on by the time he got round to This Is How…). I probably wouldn’t rush to reread Boyfriend or How to Date… I fell in love with Negocios, the tale of the protagonist’s father leaving the Dominican Republic and making his way to New York via Miami. It links up with earlier stories, explaining what Ramon did when he left his family, those years before he finally flies them over to join him.

To sum things up, if you like short stories but quite like a common thread and love authors with strong voices, this is for you.

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