Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Drown by Junot Diaz

Guys, I suck. Having made my resolution to read more diversely in 2015 in order to challenge myself outside of my comfort zone and push myself to read outside my own experience, the first diverse author I picked up is one I knew damn well I would like, having read (and loved, on differing levels) both of the other books he's published. Basically to improve my experience of reading more widely, I picked the 'safe' option.


That said, Drown is definitely worth the time, although to quote my sister (who's the one who first introduced me to Diaz and is currently reading This Is How You Lose Her) 'I forgot how much sex and Spanish there is'. She had to read Drown in her A Level English class where apparently having to talk about all the sex with her entire class and teacher was fairly uncomfortable. I empathise. I had to constantly refer to the Spanish glossary in the back of the book but I actually really liked that - it reinforced the foreignness of the character's background.

Drown is actually Diaz's first published work and, like This is How You Lose Her, it's also short stories. All of the stories feature Yunior, the character Diaz also writes about in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao and This is How You Lose Her. Having now read Drown I really want to go back and read his other two books, as when I first read Oscar Wao I thought it was actually about Oscar, which given how the author has written two other books about Yunior, the seemingly supporting character, it would appear not to be. I'd also like to see how Drown and This Is How You Lose Her fill in different parts of Yunior's life. In all honesty I felt throughout the stories that this was autobiographical, which isn't a bad thing. All of the stories read like stories - they don't read like somebody writing about something which happened to them as such, they just feel very true. The voice is very authentic. I don't know if that makes sense, I'm having some difficulty expressing what I mean about it but I think that Junot Diaz has a voice that's really rare to find, where I can read things which are totally foreign to me and feel connected to them, and that was one of my favourite things about reading this.

In essence, Drown is a collection of short stories focusing on the life of a child growing up without a father that he can rely on and about the experience of first abandonment and then being Dominican in America. The stories are very much about Dominican identity and although a lot of them have quite brutal subject matter they were all beautifully written and strung together more like a slightly disjointed novel than a traditional short story collection.

If you're not convinced by my slightly incoherent rambling, be convinced by him winning the Pullitzer for Oscar Wao, or by any of the other multitude of awards he's won, or by his activism, or by the extreme shortness of Drown and This is How You Lose Her. They're both so small they're not much of a time investment and it will be worth it, I promise.

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