by Junot Díaz
Author: Serena Agusto-Cox at Savvy Verse & Wit
Drown by Junot Díaz, which Entertainment Weekly selected to represent New York, is not set in New York. It is set in New Jersey. In most cases, the neighborhoods in New Jersey can be transposed over those in New York City. However, given that the young boy views a trip across the bridge as a trip to another world, these New Jersey neighborhoods are unique in terms of how many residents are Dominican and how those residents interact with other minorities. EW said that the “book of stories stands out for its depiction of immigrants striving for their own versions of the American dream,” which is an accurate description.
There are 10 stories in this collection, and Díaz never shies away from the darkness that can envelop an immigrant’s life, especially when jobs and money are scarce and discrimination is around many corners. A young immigrant boy must come to terms with his new life in the United States, after spending his early years feeling abandoned by his father. Living an impoverished life with his mother and brother in the Dominican Republic, waiting for money from their father or even word from him, was somewhat easier because of its familiarity. In the United States, these children must learn to live with a father they barely know, and it is a jarring experience.
The uniforms Mami could do nothing about but with the mascotas she improvised, sewing together sheets of loose paper she had collected from her friends. We each had one pencil and if we lost that pencil, like I once did, we had to stay home from school until Mami could borrow another one for us. (pg. 71, “Aguantando”)
The immigrants in these stories are from the Dominican Republic, but even that does not summarize the power of these tales. A family is fractured by a man with big dreams, but even those dreams are not enough to keep his focus most of the time. One day after pledging his devotion to his wife and children, he takes his family’s money and flies to the United States, leaving his wife and two sons behind. They live a squalid life to say the least, and while they make the best of it with the girls and the friends they have on the dirty streets, they know that there is something missing, and in some cases even blame themselves for the empty space.
Drown by Junot Díaz is gritty. There are dark alleys, drug deals, fights, and sexual promiscuity, but there also is a desolation as these immigrants find that they are without an anchor in American but unable to return comfortably to their former lives. Immigration can provide opportunity, but it also can provide paths that are unsavory and dark, leading to loss and hardship, similar to those left behind in their home countries. These stories seek to shed light on the darker side of immigration and the breakup of families in search of an American dream.
About the Author:
Junot Díaz was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in New Jersey. He is the author of the critically acclaimed Drown; The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, which won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award; and This Is How You Lose Her, a New York Times bestseller and National Book Award finalist. He is the recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship, PEN/Malamud Award, Dayton Literary Peace Prize, Guggenheim Fellowship, and PEN/O. Henry Award. A graduate of Rutgers College, Díaz is currently the fiction editor at Boston Review and the Rudge and Nancy Allen Professor of Writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.