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on February 13, 2003
Junot Diaz writes fiction without flourish. His words are stark, edgy, direct - and his stories cut through stereotype right to the quick of the truth. DROWN pulses with the rhythms of Spanish and New Jersey accents as it explores lives in both The Dominican Republic and Jersey City. Mostly adolescents and young adults, the characters struggle against a dimming or obscured future, and tend to live for the moment, even as they hope for something better. The most compelling stories are "Ysrael," "Aurora," "Edison, New Jersey," and "How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie." This is a brief book, only ten stories and a few over 200 pages long, but it packs power with its brevity.
I highly recommend this book for those with an interest in Latino and/or multicultural fiction, and for those who enjoy short story collections.
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on September 13, 2003
This explosive collection of ten amazing stories vividly chronicling the Dominican immigrant experience is starkly realistic and daring. The stories are not necessarily pleasant, but are certainly captivating tales of the resilience of the human soul and of the will to survive in the face of horrendous odds. Diaz is intense and powerful, yet he possesses what I personally find to be a calculated calm in his mesmerizing prose. Moreover, he is totally unapologetic ---and that's a plus. I thoroughly enjoyed every piece in this stunning collection. Junot Diaz is at the top of my list. You are missing a rare literary experience if you fail to read him.
Very Highly Recommended !
Alan Cambeira
Author of AZUCAR! The Story of Sugar (a novel)
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on August 20, 2002
This exceedingly strong debut collection of stories is set in the ghettos of the Dominican Republic and New Jersey, but most of all in the invisible psychic landscape of the immigrants who move from the first to the latter. Six of the ten stories here may be familiar to readers of The New Yorker, Story, or other well-regarded literary mags in whose pages they previously appeared. Díaz's stories offer grimly matter-of-fact accounts of harsh childhoods in harsh environments where fathers are either feared or absent and mothers are exhausted and resigned to their fate.
The stories set in the DR are from a youth's perspective, and have the unmistakable whiff of the autobiographical about them. In "Ysrael", the narrator and his brother are sent to the campo for the summer to live with relatives. There, they are casually cruel to a local boy whose face was disfigured by a pig. The boy later turns up as the subject of "No Face", which attempts to delve into his mind, with lesser effect than almost all the other stories. A third story, "Arguantando" follows the family from "Ysrael" as they wait to hear from their father, who has moved to the US. The final and longest story in the collection, "Negocios", explains the father's journey to the US and his many trials and tribulations before he can bring his family over.
The stories set in the US follow the young boy as he grows older in New Jersey-where shoplifting, drug dealing, and eventually work replace the poverty of the slums of Santa Domingo. "Fiesta, 1980" is the best car-sickness story you're likely to read and "How To Date" is a quick guide to interracial dating, perhaps overly flip when compared to the other stories. In "Aurora", a teenage drug dealer (the young boy grown older?) daydreams about a normal life with a crack-addicted girl. The same character reappears in "Drown", describing a former close friend's homosexual advances and his own ambivalence.
My favorite two stories were "Boyfriend" and "Edison, New Jersey". The first is a very brief story about a young man overhearing his downstairs neighbor's breakup, and working up the courage to eventually speak to her. The second is about a young man who helps deliver and assemble pool tables for a living and his well-meaning attempt to help a Dominican girl escape a life of sexual service. Both stories contain a wistful nostalgic air that's both dead on and haunting. All of Díaz's stories are immensely satisfying, and taken as a whole, they form an excellent picture of the Dominican immigrant experience. It's been six years now since this collection came out, and hopefully we'll be seeing something new soon from him.
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on August 1, 2002
The string of short stories in Drown is pretty cool. It throws together the Dominican and new American experience from the POV of youth . This book is not just Dominican book, but a book of youth. It is hard to look back in that place called youth and Diaz does so with what appears to the reader, with ease.
The stories range from Jersey project living to San Juan slum living. And the life from each facet explodes in a vibrance of pure phosphorescence. At times the stories are heartbreaking with their relentless truth, like in "Negocios". At other times stories are funny, like the government cheese bit in "How To Date A Browngirl...". But underlying everything is the sadness of the reality of poverty.
We are dealing with real people in these stories. They are so real they come off the page and talk to you. Diaz has created characters so real that we actually empathize and eventually care for them. Therein lies Diaz's strongest gift in the field of writing.
All of the stories are top notch, but the one that stands out the most is "Negocios".
If the narrative voice of Raymond Carver were the guy sitting on the bar stool next to you, the voice of Junot Diaz is that of illegitamite latino brother you are meeting for the first time, you and your brother both having had a life of poverty. Both authors write smooth as an oral storyteller. Each in a friendly, enticing, inviting voice.
Check this book out.
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on February 13, 2002
Junot Diaz is an especially talented craftsmen. In his collection of stories, "Drown," he has written a series of professional literary short stories that teem with detail about the Dominican experience and contain a plethora of ambiguous, life-like characters.
Somehow, though, Diaz' stories are too professional. They're sure to please any committee made of MFA graduates and writing school instructors, and it's no surprise that Diaz had landed in "The New Yorker." As such, the style and plotting are too familiar to be called original or even noteworthy, if it weren't for the detail about the Dominican Republic. And right now, that's the only difference between Diaz and hundreds of Iowa graduates.
I recently heard Diaz read in Berkeley from his novel in progress, and it sounds much better than the stories contained in "Drown." He's an intelligent writer with a fierce eye and ruthless character evaluation. And a distinct voice. "Drown" is a first book, rough in places, a bit cliché in composition, but written with a brilliant mind.
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on November 23, 2001
unusually beautiful really surprised me. it's a great thing when a writer from a world not often intimately explored shares it with the reader in a tasteful and hearty mix of that world and the world of high literature. i marveled at so many of his passages - so true to life, so succinct, so colorful.
yet my basic criticisms of this book:
1) although the stories - each of them - were brilliant and cohesive unto themselves, as a whole they didn't add up as well as they might have. they left me wanting more, and feeling a little used. it felt like diaz didn't make up his mind whether he wanted to write a collection of disparate, disconnected stories or a book with characters who grew and developed throughout. for instance, he opened up the marvelous character of rafa, his older brother, and then simply never mentions him again. what happened to rafa? diaz left me hanging...
2) i think the book would have worked better had diaz organized it more strictly - say, chronologically. he jumped and bounced around, like he was striving to fit a gut-true autobiography or pseudo-autobiography into a post-modern mold.
3) to sum this all up, i felt like i just read a fantastic book which had a few of its very important chapters torn out.
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on October 24, 2001
In Junot Diaz's Drown we are given ten different stories from ten different male perspectives. Coming from either a barrio in New Jersey, or the barrios of Santo Domingo, we see their daily life struggles. Each story is like an excerpt from their journals where we are given a little piece of their life.
In 'Yasrael' the story is told by a little boy, Yunior, living with his family in a barrio in Santo Domingo. Him and his brother go out in search for Ysrael, the boy ywith the demented face who is talked about and ridiculed by everyone in town.
In 'No Face', the tables turn and the story comes from Ysrael's point of view. We hear his dreams of going to America, where there are doctors who can fix his face. We see his daily struggles and how it feels to be the town freak.
In 'Aurora', a small-time drug dealer in New Jersey tells the story. We see how he works his "business" around the barrio. We see how he struggles with his hopeless, crack-head girlfriend, who just can't seem to get her life together and keeps bringing him down with her.
In 'Aguantado', we re-visit Yunior at a different time in his life. In this story he explains to us the long wait in Santo Domingo for his father, who has gone to the United States to make a better living for them. While his father is looking for work in the States, him and his brother and mother struggle from day to day to get enough food on the table.
In 'Drown', we are given the story of a young man living with his mother in a barrio in New Jersey. His story is a refelction of growing up as a mischievous boy, and never growing out of his boyhood. Though all his childhood friends have grown-up and moved away, he can't seem to do the same.
In 'Edison, New Jersey', we are given the story of a young Dominican guy making a living as a pool table deliveryman. He talks about the different wealthy costomers he delivers to in the suburbs. He talks about his x-girlfriend and her new "gringo" boyfriend. We see a typical day in his life.
In 'How to Date a Brown Girl, Black Girl, White Girl, of Halfie', we are given the standpoint of a young Dominican guy living in a New Jersey barrio. He advises about all the different types of girls he has dated and how they react differently to the way he lives, and how he acts differently around them.
In all these stories there is a pattern. Everyone is searching for something to fulfill his or her lives. They feel empty with their current situation, but they do not know how or what to fill that void with. So they continue to search, dissatisfied with everything.
I would recommend this book to everyone because it gives a good in sight to the lives of many different people, yet in lots of ways they are all the same. Their stories are so personal that it is hard not to sympathize with each of the characters. They all seem to have some sort of connection because they are all looking for something more in their lives, but they seem to be looking in all the wrong places. This book is very interesting, humorous,and touching, and it painted a good picture of the barrio lifestyles of Santo Domingo and the barrios in New Jersey.
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on February 20, 2000
Junot Diaz's extraodinary wit is easily introduced by making it past the first of stories in his book, Drown. You are immediately taken aback by his unconventional, laidback yet intricate string of thoughts. He is able to capture the crude reality as well as the raw ackardness of adolescence in an engaging series of stories. Having been born and raised in the Dominican Republic myself I easily related to Junot's transition from there to America. The familiarity and uniqueness of each small detail from his early days in the "campo" to urban living were significant and outsatnding to me. Yet Junot manages to keep the person most unfamiliar with any urban or foreign experience, or with Dominican slang for that matter, engaged and wanting more. I truly did not expect to find such whimsical and yet truthful documetation. Proving to be somewhat of a classic manchild's unconventional memoir, Mr.Diaz has the power to make you chew the truth and savour it. This is a subtle celebration of manhood disguised as a collection of entertaining snippets in the life of a true hero for the multicultural fascination in America today; a celebration which is not frilly, nor pretty, but entertaining and fascinating. Who knew emotion could be expressed in poetic discretion ? You'll be reading this one over and over. Trust me I've drowned on it several times already and am looking forward to my next dive.
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on May 25, 2002
I read this entire book and could not see what the critics were raving about. Diaz is a decent writer, but by no means excellent. Many of his stories stop instead of ending. The story "drown" is particularly disappointing. I also noticed that he only uses spanish to say vulgar words. This seemed to me that he was just throwing spanish in to seem more cultural, and that the words were not a natural result of him being bilingual.
He does get some things right, though. He has the beginnings of interesting characters and situations, but they are never fully developed, and seem to be lost in the larger waste. I do not agree ... that Diaz characters were all stereotypes. I found his characters to be diverse, distinct characters, and therefore reject the idea that his characters were cookie-cut outs.
In the end, though, I would say this book is not worth reading, ... you would be much better off reading "The House on Mango Street" by Sandra Cisneros.
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on June 10, 1998
When this book first came out I approached it with apprehension because it had been received with such fanfare by the literati and laymen alike. Indeed, so great was the hype that I honestly believed that regardless of the quality of the book, It would fail to live up to the praise bestowed upon it. Thus, you may imagine how pleasantly surprised I was when I realized that, in fact, Junot Diaz is an incredibly talented writer. I've read collections of short stories that showcase the skills of some of the most gifted writers of the 20th century, and, honestly, Diaz has written some stories that surpass anything I had read before. True, some of Diaz's stories are not as effective as the majority, yet that is because most of the stories in Drown are bona fide gems. I know I'm getting too effusive here, so I'll stop. Still, If you like to read good literature, this is a book that you definitely should consider. I look forward to reading Diaz's first novel.
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