December 5, 2014 in Book Reviews
If you’re looking for something different, Junot Diaz’s short story collection This Is How You Lose Her is it. Prepare to entire a different culture through the eyes of Yunior from the Dominican Republic. Poverty, violence, terrible treatment of women, sex, and racism in terms of the myriad of different skin colors and nationalities and their statuses are all exposed against the backdrop of an unrelenting search for love.
I’m warning you now: there are a lot of naughty words and thoughts in this book, and in the beginning, Yunior is not exactly likeable. In the first story The Sun, The Moon, The Stars, Yunior tells us straight up:
“I’m not a bad guy. I know how that sounds—defensive, unscrupulous—but it’s true. I’m like everybody else: weak, full of mistakes, but basically good. Magdalena disagrees though. She considers me a typical Dominican man: a sucio, an asshole.”
By the end of the story, after hearing about how Yunior cheated on her and the disrespect with which he spoke about her, I tended to agree with Magdalena. But keep reading, because in the next story Nilda we see a bit of Yunior’s childhood, which sets the scene for his big brother Rafa’s fate played out in The Pura Principle. Considering the unlikability of Rafa, it is surprisingly poignant, especially in terms of how these events shaped the Yunior we first met. The next story, Invierno is a heartbreaking account of the tyranny Yunior’s father held over both his sons and his wife, preventing them from leaving their apartment for “no reason other than that’s what he wanted.” Yunior, the asshole we first met, is becomes multilayered as we learn more about him until the final story, and the best in my opinion, The Cheater’s Guide To Love, which just about breaks your heart.
The stories are not in chronological order, and one story, Otravida, Otravez does not feature Yunior. Yet they all share the vivid, unapologetic, wonderful voice of Diaz who draws us into the Dominican culture and doesn’t let go. Come dip your feet into Yunior’s world, where it is sometimes harsh, sometimes disturbing, sometimes heartbreaking, and always compelling.
(The only thing missing from this book is a glossary. I would have loved to know what some of the slang terms he used meant, particularly when it came to classifying women according to their nationality.)