Diaz, Junot. Drown. Read by Jonathan Davis. Westminster, MD: Books on Tape, 2007.

Here’s the thing. Anything you read by Diaz is going to feel like heavy drinking in a rough-around-the-edges bar; the kind of place where it’s too dark to see; where the soles of your shoes are sticky-stuck to the floor and there is the obsessively constant need to wipe your hands and mouth. Diaz has that conversational, lean in and listen way of talking that sounds slightly conspiratorial but always brutally honest. While the stories change direction and voice, the messages of culture, society, family, tradition and passion do not. Powerful characters are matched only by their fierce loves and tragic losses. Their triumphs and travesties are spilled across the page with a “so what?” wild abandon. It’s as if you are elbow to elbow with Diaz as he whispers to you lush stories from his childhood, his coming of age, his entire history. Every story is intensely personal. But, But! But, all the while you are aware that this bar, these stories – this is his turf and you are not safe without him there. You need him to keep talking.

Reason read: supposed to be read in honor of the Merengue Festival that takes place sometime in late July/early August but as a series of short stories, read in honor of June’s national short story status.

Book trivia: Here’s what kept me up at night – the story of the kid whose face was half chewed off by a pig. You meet his tormentors, children who don’t understand the need for him to wear a mask. But then later, you meet the poor child and it rattles you to the core.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Cavorting Through the Caribbean: Dominican Republic” (p 54).

Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Diaz, Junot. The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Diaz. New York: Riverhead Books, 2007.

From the very first pages of The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (which I will from now on refer to as “Wondrous” because the title is too long), you are sucked in. The narrator goes on and on about “fuku” curse and the superstition of it all. It’s amusing and chilling all at once. All the while, you are hoping fuku doesn’t set its sights on you. But if it does, you also hope to have a little zafa (counterspell) hanging around.

When we first meet Oscar, he is seven years old and the year is 1974. He is the “GhettoNerd at the End of the World” trying to have two girlfriends at once. The story switches gears for chapter two (1982 – 1985). Oscar’s sister, Lola takes over the story in first person. She is a feisty runaway girl with typical teenage angst. From there, the narratives keep changing. Each voice tells a new story (just wait until you get to the story of Lola and Oscar’s mother, Belicia from 1955 to 1962). Through the generations, all the while the fuku is circling this doomed family. The writing of Wondrous is rich and enveloping. You cannot help but get completely drawn into the lives of every character.

Favorite lines (and there are a few), “The talkback blew the fuck up” (p 6), “You don’t know the hold our mothers have on us, even the ones that are never around. You don’t know what it’s like to grow up with a mother who never said a positive thing in her life, not about her children, not about the world, who has always been suspicious, always tearing you down and splitting your dreams straight down the seams” (p 55-56), and “Even at the end she refused to show me anything close to love” (p 208).

Reason read: New Jersey became a state on December 18, 1787.

Author fact: Junot also wrote Drown which is also on my list.

Book trivia: Pearl recommended listening to the audio of The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao so I did both. I listened to the audio to and from work and read 10-15 pages on my lunch break. Also, Wondrous won a Pulitzer.

Audio trivia: The audio is read by Jonathan Davis and an unknown female…unless Davis does an extraordinary job sounding like a woman?

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Cavorting Through the Caribbean” (p 54).