|Courtesy of junotdiaz.com|
Diaz, who writes both short stories and novels, creates an unique central character: the Dominican Republic (DR). The DR holds a strong place in Diaz's heart; he too immigrated to the US as a child and was raised in New Jersey. Currently a creative writing professor at MIT, Diaz strives to highlight a segment of the American culture that often gets forgotten: the immigrant population from the Caribbean. The DR is a central theme throughout his 1996 debut collection, Drown, where the reader is exposed to a series of short stories that are snapshots into the characters' souls. We see how they struggle to convey a macho (or slutty, depending on what they want) persona to the public, all the while mourning their inability to achieve higher goals like college or at least staying out of jail. Failures and triumphs are also in his Pulitzer Prize novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. Having a generational 'curse' hanging over his head, Oscar is an overweight nerd, the exact opposite of what a Dominican man is supposed to be. He is a constant source of woe for his mother, who hopes that he can become more manly or at least more healthy, and for his beautiful and popular sister, who is completely unsure how to deal with her awkward brother. Diaz's latest award winning collection, This is How You Lose Her, we see how the DR paints the characters' (several characters resurface through all of his stories) relationships. Several stories are about how men want to stay with the women that they truly love, but they just can't escape the pressure to be 'manly' by cheating with several different women. In others, the reader is shown how women also can't stop playing men for money, cars, or whatever they want. The constant back and forth in their relationships is blamed on the instability of relationships and sex in the DR; however, this cultural norm for the DR does NOT translate well in the US. Throughout their struggles with themselves, their history, and their family, the DR hangs over their head, like a past they cannot escape and a future they cannot avoid.
|Courtesy of BarnesandNoble.com|
Love, loss, poverty, and, most importantly, a loss of culture is what drives Junot Diaz's characters; these people feel the stinging pain of trying to mesh their Dominican culture and identity in with the oft-sterile culture of the USA. They cannot regain what they left behind, thus they tend to fill the void with destructive behavior, almost barreling themselves towards the stereotype of a "ghetto" immigrant. It is these descents, these personal struggles, both real and imaginary, that Diaz creates for his readers.