I was at Book Expo America last week and couldn't resist browsing this Penguin truck. It was parked in the lobby of the Javits Convention Center and the books were being sold through McNally Jackson. I wasn't planning on picking up any books at Book Expo because I go there for work and also there wasn't a lot I was interested in. However, I really needed some reading material for the tail end of my train ride (I knew I'd finish my other book before we arrived in Boston), so I indulged myself and bought a copy of This is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz.
The book has been out for a while and I really wanted it but was trying to delay the pleasure of reading it until it came out in paperback. But I really couldn't resist and picked it up and started reading it right away.
As someone who is both Dominican and an intellectual, I find that I am part of a secret club; a small subset of people who can really connect with Junot Diaz and his writing. His books are very special to me and I treasure them. I feel that being Dominican, I have another layer of understanding of Diaz's writing that others who are not Dominican do not have.
Being Dominican is unlike anything else. I know that can probably be said for a lot of cultures but something about being Dominican is different. I'm half Dominican, half Portuguese and was raised in the United States. Of the Dominican, the Portuguese and the American (heck even the Lebanese that comes with the Dominican), it's my mother's Dominican culture and heritage that I am the most connected with. It's the loudest, most passionate, most complicated and most frustrating of all the elements of my upbringing. Sometimes being Dominican angers and confuses me but I am still fiercely proud to have Quisqueya blood running through my veins.
This is How You Lose Her is a series of short stories about different Dominican men who have troubled relationships with women. There is one main recurring character Yunior, who alongside his ailing brother Rafa, appears in most of the stories. Dominican men are notorious for philandering and sex is a big part of being Dominican. While some may say this is a stereotype, there are too many real life examples in order to just cast it off as a generalization. I can point to my own maternal grandfather, Dominican to the core and none of us in my family know how many relationships he's been in nor do we know how many children he has had. I'm sure I have many more cousins than I think I do.
I can tell that Diaz is an observant and receptive person. He hits upon a lot of the struggles and emotions that Dominicans deal with. He gets what it means to be part of the Dominican Diaspora. When I was in grad school, I wrote a non-fiction essay about my hair. Dominicans have a very complicated relationship with their hair. My mother has always envied my more European hair because she has always hated the coarser more African hair she inherited from my grandmother. In fact, I have never seen my mother's hair in its natural state because she is in a constant battle to make it look smooth and straight. What took me several pages of writing to explain, Diaz did in a couple glorious sentences in This is How You Lose Her. That is what is so brilliant about Diaz's writing. He conveys so much with few words.
It's hard for me to talk about Junot Diaz' work without going on and on about my Dominican heritage and upbringing. I guess that's why I love Diaz' writing so much. It gives me an opportunity to really think about what it is to be part of the Dominican Diaspora that he writes about. Even though I'm not a hot-blooded Dominican man who constantly cheats on the love of his life, as many of the characters in This is How You Lose Her do, I still feel an immense connection to this book.
I don't think This is How You Lose Her is for everyone. Feminists might hate it or they might love it for its portrayal of various men who cheat and lose their women in the process. People might be turned off by the swearing or the frequent use of Spanish terms or Dominican slang. If that is going to scare you away from Junot Diaz's excellent writing, then you don't deserve to read his books. But don't fret, there are many of us around that will cherish his writing in your place.