The thought of not being able to read this book haunted me for a long time. As someone interested not only in good literature, but also in issues related to identity and immigration, this absence was not playing in my academic advantage. This situation ended up this week, when I finally went throulgh the book.
Made as a succession of short stories, most of them with the same central character of Yunior, with predominant Latino characters, it tells stories of falling out of love. As I've found out later, Yunior appears in other books by Junot, probably the author's literary alter ego. The language is colloquial authentic, with many Spanish words. The characters, especially the women are bubbling, compared to the placid, drug and drink-addicted men. And when they are substance free, they are just going with the wave, as Yunior, jumping from a woman to another, always too late to say 'I am sorry' or too indifferent to care about the effects of his mistakes.
The pace of the stories is sensual, slow, as it seems the stories were written under a torrid sun in the heated one-room in-between two girls. The descriptions are sometimes irresistible either for the humour or for the deep human sense revealed: 'We don't look like a couple. When she smiles, niggers ask her for her hand in marriage; when I smile folks check their wallets'.Or this one: 'You were at the age when you could fall in love with a girl over an expression, over a gesture'.
One of my favourite story is 'Invierno'/'Winter', about new immigrants lives and love stories in NYC shortly after landing from the Dominican Republic. Home is that place left temporarily for financial and social reasons, but it remains the place where the heart and the night dreams always return: 'That night I dreamed of home that we'd never left. I woke up, my throat aching, not with fever'. Life in social exile is not easy, although either it comes to love or food or social life, they try to knit together with other Dominicanos. Practically, they only left home physically, as they keep being part of a different kind of home translated in the NYC dirty small apartments. Their life seems to go rarely out of these slums and low paid jobs and there is a feeling of self-sufficient mediocrity infusing all the stories, not only when it is about failed love stories.
It is that kind of books that I used to read intensively long time ago, but whose hopeless and sadness and violence, althrough well written, does not move me any more.
Rating: 3 Stars