Living in another country, no matter what you do, can be difficult as hell. You get to “meet the new people, see the new places, experience the new culture” and once all that is as good as gone, there is that painful ache in your chest, that tells you something is not quite right. You try to fight that with “meeting newer people, seeing newer places, and experiencing newer culture” and yet the ache doesn’t get smaller, but rather increases and becomes more painful. You speak the language fluently, you know your way around as if you are home, and you know the right people and yet you still feel that if immigration comes, you really, absolutely must be the first one to go. Don’t get me wrong, living in another country has its numerous benefits, but this post is not about that. It is more about the struggle to disconnect yourself from your roots and depending on the importance you place on your roots, it might be as easy as tearing a bandage off and as difficult as…well, tearing an arm?
Before the Pulitzer winning The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, before the painful This Is How You Lose Her, Junot Diaz was famous for his short stories, many of which he published in The New Yorker, Story, The Paris Review and in the anthologies The Best American Stories. His collection Drown is, like his other works (or to be more precise, his other works are like Drown) focused on the alienation of Dominicans, living in the States, on life without a father figure, on love and sex, and on Yunior. Having already read a lot that Junot Diaz has to offer, I feel he is slowly building up the image of Yunior in my head. It doesn’t really matter in which order one reads Junior’s works. Some themes prevail and one feels like coming back home to the same story, yet told a lit bit differently. Yunior in Drown is the same Yunior, who feels intimidated by his brother Rafa, the same Yunior who longs for his father’s attention and suffers from his father’s absence, the same Yunior who has sick and failed relationship. In each of his works, Junot Diaz gives us just a little bit more information about Yunior and getting to know the guy feels like doing a puzzle. A lot of the pieces are still missing, but the author admitted that he intended to focus on the troublesome Dominican in his future works as well, hopefully bringing the character to completion.
Two of the most disturbing short stories in Drown are about a boy, whose face is eaten by a pig. He wears a mask around, but is constantly bullied by the other kids, and eventually beaten by Yunior and Rafa, because they want to see his face. His hopes of a new start in life after a surgery, his battles with everyday situations that for others are pretty normal, his silent suffering, are beautifully portrayed by Diaz, and yet disturbing to read or imagine. The last story, at least for me, is the best one. It unveils the past of Yunior’s father, his travelling and difficulties in the US, his wandering between his American and his Dominican family. In this short story (which is also the longest one), Junot is at his best. The character of the father is extremely real. One gets to accuse him for abandoning his wife and two young children and for taking another family in the US. One also gets to pity him (and the rest of the Dominicans struggling) because of his constant struggle to earn and provide. One, however, always, always understands him. Understandably, Junot Diaz’s obsession with father-son relationship is influenced by his real life problematic relationship with his father.
Diaz’s world is vivid, passionate, uncompromising, and cruel. His works mercilessly portray the alienation of contemporary society and the constant battle for work, love and happiness. More red points for South American authors, with which I am obsessed for quite a long time now.
More from Junot Diaz: