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Monday, February 19, 2007

"Drown" by Junot Diaz

Now I am back reading at the pace I like. Last night I read about 50 pages and I could not put the book down when it was time to sleep. It is definitely engaging and the way that Diaz describes his early childhood should make us all feel the beneficiaries of a good life. This is a hard fictionalized memoir (no doubt the stories are filled with biographical details), and the way the stories tie together is really a masterful touch. The stories go back and forth between New Jersey and Santo Domingo, where Diaz is originally from. There are some description of slums in New Jersey that remind me of my own childhood in the South Bronx. The book is full of the feeling of displacement immigrants have to deal with. The stories based in Santo Domingo are more in tune with the pains of growing up. In "Ysrael" the narrator Yunior is accompanied by his brother Rafa as they set out to "see" a boy whose face was eaten up by a pig while he was still a baby. "Ysrael" (the boy they set out to see) now wears a mask. Little do the reader know that Yunior and Rafa's intention is to take off the mask and "disrobe" Ysrael. This they do, besides beating poor Ysrael brutally. It is certainly a story of those lazy summers when boys have little to do and too much in their heads. The stories are peppered with the fact that Yunior's father abandoned the family and moved to New York. Eventually they all make it to New York and begin to deal with the displacement. In "Aurora," the narrator recounts his love life with a crackhead girl and his own selling drugs business. It's a hard story, and I felt both the desperation and hopelessness of love. It is incredibly well-written and lovingly poetic.

What I do find a little strange is the praise offered to Diaz. The backcover reads: "Junot Diaz is a major new writer. His world explodes off the page into the canon of our literature and our hearts." And also, "Talent this big will always make noise..." Definitely I agree with Diaz's talent. I remember that a few years ago (when I applied for one myself) Diaz won a Guggenheim and funding from the NEA on the same year. I guess some people have all the luck. Another thing that is important to point out is that Diaz infuses his stories with a great deal of vernacular... IN SPANISH... I have no idea how a person unfamiliar with Spanish street talk makes sense of some parts of the book. I don't have a problem with it, but again, I wonder.

The other book I am reading is Carl Jung's "The Undiscovered Self." It deals with collective and individual consciousness and unconsciousness. The book is an inquiry into the stresses that face humanity today. Even though this book was written at the height of the Cold War, if one supplants the Soviet threat with present day terrorism the book still makes a great deal of sense. Perhaps I will get more into it as I finish "Drown." That's another action shot from yesterday.

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