leslie nikole
photo taken by the one and only ghost


leslie.nikole at icloud dot com


leave a comment (0)

These two books were published before I was in high school (Drown in 1996 originally and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao in 2007), why wasn't I reading this instead of the God-awful "classics" like Huckleberry Finn? I probably would have enjoyed the advance English classes (which ended disastrously in my senior year when I took AP English) if I had stumbled upon one of these two.

Drown, a collection of ten short stories, is Junot Díaz's actual debut novel. Pay no mind to people saying that that title is synonymous with This Is How You Lose Her, published on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11. Once you submerge (ha!) yourself into this one, it's hard to put it down. I too found myself facing that dilemma at three o'clock in the morning still half awake with this book in hand, knowing I had to be at work and functional in a few hours. If like me, you read This Is How You Lose Her prior to Díaz's previous publications (which I was probably only tipped off to because I finally had a good set of friends), you'll probably understand it a lot more if you read Drown next like I did. Remember when Star Wars basically came out backwards? My situation was sort of like that. This Is How You Lose Her makes sense when you read it alone, but it makes so much more when you've read Drown first.

Semi-autobiographical, Díaz manages to go through stories lapsing generations, physical settings, and characters, without overwhelming (ironically). Each could stand alone, and once I flipped through a small stack of The New Yorker fiction pieces I snatched out of the magazine I gathered over the years, I managed to find a few stories well fitted into this publication. Drown is heavily laden with ideas through experience about race, classism, gender, sexuality, and especially migration. As the only kid to immigrant parents, seeing all of the characters having to deal with the old world at home while trying to fit in with the new world at school, work, and with friends, is insane. I can't even count how many times I caught myself smirking on the train while reading this, floored with not only the memories of stories just like the one Díaz is recanting, but knowing that he was in the same kinds of kitchens, porches, and stoops when he heard those stories too. Ysreal, Aurora, and How to Date a Blackgirl, Browngirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie are my personal favourites from the collection.

Now, before we get started talking about The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, let's get something clear. This book, is about 10% in Spanish. If you have a problem with a book being in more than one (real) language, you have issues you need to work on. ¡Los tropezones hacen levantar los pies! In the great words of Junot Díaz himself notes that “motherfuckers will read a book that’s one third elvish, but put two sentences in Spanish and they [white people] think we’re taking over.” Marinate on that for a minute.

When I started reading this one, I was expecting it to be about a tenth Spanish, but I still got a red pen and went along translating the few words and phrases as I read, which was just oh so very onerous (as Oscar would say, with much emphasized sarcasm). How tough it is to have a minute grasp on the loss in translation felt by many immigrants! The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is really three things in one: a third history lesson (told the way someone would on the street instead of a stuffy classroom), a partial Spanish lesson, and all the while being an overall exceptional (it did win the Pulitzer Prize) novel. Out of all three published novels by Díaz, the characters in The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao are all inevitably doomed in one way or another, be it by fukú (witchcraft and the idea of spirits is widespread in the entire Caribbean) or their own foolishness and stubborn ways. For the most part of the book, you root for Oscar, his sister Lola, and especially Abelard, a man in an extremely tough position trying to do the impossible: protect his family from Trujillo. As usual, Yunior tap dances on the final myelin sheath surviving on my last nerve, and I care for Oscar's mother (who I affectionately renamed La Corneja) even less. My disdain for them isn't anything over the top, but I think it's only because in the back of my mind these people really might exist somewhere. Maybe not as wholes, but in bits and pieces. That, is what gets me.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao 

Labels: , , ,