Tag Archives: Junot Diaz

Book Review: This is How You Lose Her, By Junot Diaz

Infidelity is a major theme of Junot Diaz’s 2012 short story collection, This is How You Lose Her. If this was merely a recitation of the different ways in which men cheat on their women–and there’s a lot of that in the nine stories–it would be pretty unremarkable. But Diaz offers much more than A Cheater’s Guide to Love, the title of the last story.

Many of the stories center on Yunior, the character Diaz introduced in his earlier short story volume, Drown, and reprised in his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Yunior, often described as Diaz’s alter ego, is a wonderful character–a young man who wants to do right, but is caught between his upbringing and his internal moral compass.

In Yunior’s world, the men cheat on their women. He watched his father, Papi, cheat on his mother, and his brother, Rafa, cheat on women, often in the bedroom the brothers shared. In “Miss Lora” Yunior as a teen ponders this as he lusts after an older woman. “You had hoped the gene missed you, skipped a generation, but clearly you were kidding yourself.” These little asides to the reader, as if he is a confidante of the character, are a hallmark of Diaz’s work.

What gives these stories of heartbreak and betrayal buoyancy is Diaz’s shimmering prose, a unique blend of scintillating narrative, Spanglish and street lingo. Diaz writes with an energy and intimacy that keeps the reader invested in the story.

“Invierno,” one of the best stories, describes the arrival of Yunior’s family from the Dominican Republic to a gritty urban locale in northern New Jersey. Papi won’t let Yunior or his older brother, Rafi, leave their small apartment, but toward the end of the story, their mom takes them out during a snowstorm, viewing things they’d never seen in their homeland. “We even saw the ocean, up there at the top of Westminster, like the blade of a long,curved knife. Mami was crying but we pretended not to notice. We even threw snowballs at the sliding cars and once I removed my cap just to feel the snowflakes scatter across my cold, hard scalp.”

The collection ends with a story in which Yunior has an epiphany. Cheating on a woman he truly loved, Yunior’s heart burns when she breaks up with him. It takes him years and he still is not over her. And that’s when he realizes, in Diaz’s beautiful words, “The half-life of love is forever.”

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Book Review: The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, By Junot Diaz

I’d been meaning to read this book for a long time. The critically acclaimed, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in 2008 and I understand why.

Junot Diaz is a unique and fresh voice among contemporary writers. His writing is at various points in the narrative street-wise, incisive, academic, tender, and wickedly funny. “Oscar Wao” is the story of one family in Paterson, New Jersey, but it is also the tragic story of the Dominican Republic under the brutal regime of dictator Rafael Trujillo.

Oscar de Leon is an overweight teenager, a self-described Dominican geek and a romantic who pines after girls who won’t ever go out with him. He is a sympathetic protagonist with a fascination for science fiction and he aspires to be the “Dominican Tolkien.”

The story jumps around from the 1980s and 1990s, back in time to the late 1940s, when Oscar’s mother, Belicia Cabral, was a young girl. Her father, Abelard, a wealthy, refined doctor, is arrested and imprisoned by Trujillo for 18 years and Beli’s older sisters both die under suspicious circumstances. Beli is placed in foster care, where she is subjected to child slavery and cruelty before her father’s cousin, La Inca, rescues her.
The omniscient narrator of much of the book is later revealed to be Yunior, a former lover of Oscar’s sister, Lola, and Oscar’s former roommate at Rutgers.

Diaz intersperses numerous footnotes throughout the narrative, a technique that is risky as it takes the reader out of the story. The footnotes often offer historical context for the events in the story, a technique I believe Diaz uses to suggest that the terrible tragedies that befell many Dominican families were the consequences of the ruthless depravity of Trujillo. The dystopian world Oscar writes about in his science fiction works provides a striking parallel to the post-Trujillo Dominican Republic. The book begins with a discussion of the “fuku,” a curse that foreshadows the heartbreaking events that occur in the story.

And yet, in spite of the dark themes, Diaz’s message is one of hope. Oscar, who is a true believer in romantic love, risks everything for the love of a woman. It’s an admirable trait and one that endears him to the reader.

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