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  • Drown
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4.3 out of 5 stars25
4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 5 February 2001
Junot Diaz has been hailed as one of a new breed of East Coast talents. His insight into the Spanish American experience in the US can be deservedly labeled as profoundly moving and richly complex. It is astonishing how little attention has thus far been paid to this element of American culture, but let's hope that Diaz's work will go some way to redressing this imbalance.
The stories in Drown focus on characters who have managed to survive domestic abuse, pandemic crime and crippling prejudice. Despite the recurrent and critically important theme of social dislocation, Diaz doesn't seek to simplify or patronize. His characters are individuals who make a convincing attempt to breathe beyond the pages of the book.
Diaz is a sympathetic narrator and his characters are emphatically three-dimensional. In the first story, told from the perspective of a young boy, his bullying and adulterous father is contrasted with his benevolent and loving Mother. However the father is not all beast and despite the misery he inflicts, the man is also full of a bitter regret for all that he has allowed to be lost between himself and his wife.
Despite their innate fragility, Diaz's characters have a revitalizing vigour. I think of the schoolboys who feel remorse for hunting and taunting the school freak, and the lover who regularly forgives his largely absent girlfriend who steals from him to feed her drug habit. These and other characters disappear, sometimes to return or more frequently indefinitely lost in a haze of pollution and dirt.
I recommend this book as an astonishingly effective piece of literature. More than this, there are, to my mind, few contemporary parallels. Buy it, read it, recommend it.
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on 16 March 2008
This book has been on my reading list for a creative writing course I teach for several years now, along with Maya Angelou, Michael Frayn, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Jenny Diski. And every year students have unanimously proclaimed this the best written and most impressive book on the reading list. Diaz has an ability to make writing seem effortless and artless. His settings and characters are real, the situations believable and the narrative voice compelling. He does not pander to the reader, retaining Spanish words with no glossary but they are used in a way that makes sense in their context and they provide a flavour of speech and thought that takes us into his world. The only writer I could fairly compare him with is Raymond Carver - the same truthfulness and directness - but stylistically Diaz is the superior writer. Recommended for any aspiring writer.
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VINE VOICEon 4 October 2012
A set of short stories that moves from claustrophobic Dominican townships to anonymous diasporic New York.

Car sickness; dreams of a conventional future with a crack-addict partner; a boy's face savaged by a pig; a guide to interracial dating; stealing while delivering pool tables. These are nostalgic glimpses, but there is arguably enough interconnection for the book to count as a novel.

Broken families, poverty and drug culture give a gritty edge to the original storylines, and occasionally hilarious, occasionally poignant, always honest characters keep the reader close.

Lively rhythm, magnetic idiosyncratic prose: great modern literature.
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on 29 December 2006
DROWN by Junot Diaz spoke to me like no other work of fiction that I've read in many years. It was the first time where I saw myself in the characters and felt that I knew them intimately. They were like my own family, brothers, cousins, mother and father that I could almost feel that the stories were right out of my own childhood.

Diaz's stories about Domincans in the Dominican Republic and the U.S. The stories perfectly capture the struggle with poverty in the characters' native country as well as the United States. But these stories are not didactic pieces but rather human stories about family, love, and loss. With characters so real, that the reader will wonder when they will see them again.
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on 25 July 2012
I'd love to write like this. The stories are evocative, touching and hilarious. I discovered Diaz on a recent trip through Central America, after picking up OSCAR WAO. That book deeply moved me, and this collection of short stories continues to. Having visited the Dominican Republic, I wish I'd met some more of the people, as Diaz paints beautiful portraits of them.

I'm lucky enough to have picked up enough Spanish over the years to have understood the dialogue without the need for a glossary. But if, as some have claimed, Diaz didn't want a glossary inserted in the recent addition, then this strikes me as a little shortsighted, despite the Spanish words lending music to the dialogue. For example, I'm sure friends of mine would love the stories but, without a glossary, they may give up on the book; that would indeed be a great shame, as writing like this deserves to be read.

I swap a lot of books after reading them, as I like to keep a concise collection. This book has been added to it. Some you just have to keep.
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on 24 October 2010
A masterpiece of literary fiction. Diaz writes with not just remarkable skill and detail but also an ability to give his stories a low-slung hip-hop rhythm that no other writer in contemporary fiction possesses (as far as I'm aware). I've purchased so many copies of this book to give to people - it just must be read! And to think English is Diaz's second language!!!
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on 28 February 2013
I really enjoyed these short stories, a segment of literature that I have come to appreciate in recent years, not least thanks to the genius Alice Munro. I loved Diaz's language and did not necessarily want to have an English translation to each word. Highly recommended!
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on 24 August 2009
First published in 1996, Junot Diaz's Drown is a collection of short stories. They are set in Santo Domingo and the typical US, African Caribbean diaspora of New York, New Jersey and Miami. The stories are narrated by and the action is seen from the perspective of Yunior, the second son of the family whose life and times are brilliantly outlined in the stories. Drown is the precursor to the debut full length novel, The Brief Life of Oscar Wao which was received with high critical acclaim.

The collection opens with Ysrael, in which the narrator and his brother, Rafa, takes a journey to see a boy who was savaged by a pig when he was a toddler. Ysrael is the cast off, the unwanted and his plight is made worse by mockery. When the two young brothers encounter the boy the older brother, Rafa, gives Ysrael a beating for no apparent reason other than to jeer at his ugliness.

Immediately, the reader is attuned to one of Diaz's themes - namely the harshness of growing up in Santo Domingo. Using unadorned language, our narrator takes us into a harsh world of broken families, economic hardship and dubious friendships. But at the same time, Diaz reveals human qualities of courage and tenacity.

These are not short stories of mere gloom and doom. There is also a light and jovial aspect to some of the stories. In "How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl or Halfie"; the tongue in cheek advice about how to date a girl is humorous and there are some acute observations.

Perhaps my favourite story is Aguantando. In this story we are taken back to Santo Domingo. Yunior relives part of his child hood without a father. It is a story that is at once touching and revealing of life as a poor boy in Santo Domingo. But above all, it is a celebration of the lone mothers, whose partners have long emigrated to the US, struggling to make ends meet and showing love for their children by caring for and nurturing them.

In one paragraph or even a sentence, Diaz has a gift for capturing the lives of people in the Caribbean vis a vis a large, powerful and not too distance neighbour - namely the US. Despite the hardships and problems experienced by the characters, Diaz's narrator's voice remains dispassionate and objective. Diaz allows him to present his characters and action to the host nation saying this is what happens to the poor immigrant from the so-called third world and to the prospective immigrant he says this is what you should expect when you arrive in the land of plenty.

The short stories that make up Drown are not light weight. They deal with some enormous issues: they are about the stuff of boyhood, they are about the meeting of cultures and integrating into a new life, and they are about individuals who does not fit into a so-called norm. These issues make the book a very good read.
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on 24 March 2009
These stories are all different but form a continuum, overlapping and coming from different angles and times. They centre around a boy growing up in the Dominican Republic and his emigration to New York. It is a poor and tough beginning producing a tough kid who is far from immune to the stresses of relocation and the on-going break-up of his family - his father's relocation occurs many years before the rest of the family. Perhaps most unsettling is the father's womanizing and general unpredictability, with a tendency for violence.

The stories are far from glum though... there is the positive energy of a survivor who punches through whatever the setbacks. Perhaps that is why the stories have been described as refreshing... or does that come from their lack of political correctness?! Certainly the stories tell it as it is - there is no attempt to sugar-coat either life in the barrios or that of the immigrant.

The brilliance is in capturing the tensions - either within the family or as perpetuated in wider relationships. A book that deserves its excellent reputation.
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on 16 August 2015
Diaz writes a funky black immigrant literature. Its quite good but the problem is it focuses on promiscuous sex and an easy criminality that makes you bored with it pretty quickly. If there was some moral centre to the tales it would have been more readable. so so
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