Thursday, October 17, 1996

Drown, by Junot Díaz

A review of Drown, by Junot Díaz
Published October 17th, 1996, in The Minnesota Daily’s A&E Magazine

By Junot Díaz
Riverhead Books, $21.95

Junot Díaz’s debut collection, Drown, arrives at an interesting time in the history of the English language. With Congress pushing for an “English-only” state, and with conservative word-hawks like William Safire trying to keep the language from expanding, Díaz’s Spanglish comes on like a wake-up call for America’s tired ears and tongues.

Drown mixes English and Spanish street dialect to create some of the finest, most sublime prose this side of the Atlantic:

When times were real flojo, when the last colored bill flew out of Mami’s purse, she packed us off to our relatives. She’d use Wilfredo’s father’s phone to make the calls early in the morning. Lying next to Rafa, I’d listen to her soft, unhurried requests and pray that our relatives would tell her to vete pa’ carajo but that never happened in Santo Domingo.

The collection follows one boy, Yunior, through his childhood in the Dominican Republic, his adolescence in Nueva York, and his eventual exploration of his family’s past. Díaz accentuates this cyclical pattern with radical shifts in his storytelling approach: He writes the first seven stories in first person, with Yunior as the narrator, and in the eighth story Yunior narrates in second person. And in the last two stories, Yunior narrates mostly in third person, seemingly taking the writing duties away from Díaz.

Like A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in reverse, Drown circles into the past to find his character’s voice. And what a voice it is. This collection marks the arrival of a major new talent.

—David Wiley

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