Junot Diaz has always been a favorite author of mine, ever since college when he came to the Latin-American lit class I was taking in '98. By that time, I had already read Drown and was on my way to reading Negocios, the Spanish translation of Drown, expertly done by my lit. professor, Mr. Eduardo Lago (even the colloquialisms and the SHUCO-ness, the grit, the sarcasm, the naughtiness, came through, which I know, as an amateur translator myself, is supremely tough to accomplish).
Diaz's language, dialogue, place, every ounce of passion and work he puts into his writing, it is all fresh, and so it will be when I reread This Is How You Lose Her next year, and the next, and so on. It takes a very talented writer to give his readers a different glimpse of the same character, Yunior, who pops up everywhere, starting with Drown. Every time he shows up, you see a different side. He's an onion - every time you peel back a layer, you feel like crying a little. Notice here that Yunior's girls - his sucias - and his friends revolve around him, but the family stays the same, close to him, living in the back of his head - dando consejos (giving advice), for better or for worse, and sometimes ruling him. The mark of a great author is the characters he crafts, and Diaz is a writer who blows the best of them out of the water on that count.
Diaz has an amazing ability to evoke emotion like few others can - you pull for Yunior and his boys. You pray for Yunior's brother Rafa, yet, like their Mami, you are almost constantly disgusted with him at the same time. So you pray for him then hold up your hand like you are going to smack him silly. You want to hug Yunior's girls, tell them you've been there, hold their hands, tell them that even the smartest women can be easily fooled by a charming man. Yunior's mami....like many Latina wives and mothers, she makes suffering her claim to fame, sacrifice and guilt trips her job, but she has a sharp mind and is far from a hopeless case. You can never count her out. And Yunior's Papi, it's like Yunior said in Fiesta, 1980 (a story in Drown) - you just look at his belly button because you're scared to look him in the eye.
Yunior. Dios mio. You want to hug him. You see through the exterior and you want to tell him it's all OK, he can be real. You want to yell at him and knock some sense into him. Like one of his girls in Cheater's Guide to Love, the last story in This Is How You Lose Her, you love his mind, which is expert on almost everything - from words you have to look up that he casually slips into conversation/narration to sci-fi references you also have to Wikipedia. Yet you empathize with him. You throw up your hands because you wish he'd just come clean. And you want to be there when he does.
You know you could never live the way some of those characters do, or in the places they live, yet people stronger than you do it every day. When you have hope and faith, so do they. There is a common thread that unites everyone that you don't know about or even willfully ignore until you read Diaz's work.
And then the sadness when the book ends, even though you know you'll see it again, is palpable. ~~sigh~~
I've read a few of the stories in This Is How You Lose Her in the New Yorker during the past few years. The ripped-out pages I saved in a portfolio just in case I never saw those stories published again. But even though those magazine pages, for the most part, contain the same words as the corresponding stories in the book, it's like the stories were brand new. Again, blows everyone away on sheer ability.
And Diaz, you want to tell him, "You did good, hombre. You did real good."
Editor's note: I made sure to buy my copy of this book at Posman Books in New York City, a small bookstore with three locations throughout the city. Please remember to buy your books at independent bookstores.