April 18, 2003


Category: Personal — Biella @ 12:06 am

Sometimes as an anthropologist, I am envious of literature as a means to convey the worlds of meaning that we try to put forth in academic analysis. I just finished reading Drown by Junot Diaz/ which is on the “Domincan” immigrant experience, an experience that happens just as much on the soils of the DR as it does in the sordid neighborhoods that Diaz chillingly depicts in this collection of stories. Wives and children left behind in the DR are thrust just as much into the experience of migration and immigration as those that have already crossed into another supposed realm. It is another place, yet the similarities (like that “wedge” of avocado that accompanies lots of Dominican dishes which he so carefully marks) are endlessly different. The plate of sancocho with the wedge of avocado connects this world with that world but a disconnect is also still there. Though “fiction” they clearly stem from life experience and speak a million poignant words of the incredible, daunting, and often dire condition of being an immigrant, a condition that marks generations, genders, and different cultures. The book is simple but so very potent because it lets dark stories pregnant with emotions (that are rarely spoken and seen in the intercourse of real life but always really present) do the speaking instead of the intricacies of language. He brings us the depth of meaning and emotion that anthropologists try to arrive at in our fieldwork and often do. But then I feel we lose a lot of that richness when we have to force it under an academic facade. Literature bypasses that veneer of “academic analysis” and lets the reader plunge right in and swim away… Or in this case, drown, as the title suggests.

One of the the things that I liked the most about the book is that the stories did not unfold chronologically. Some of the first ones were from the period of childhood in the DR, then the stories moved to the States, and then future stories brought the reader back in time to the past with different characters. “Molding Experiences That Never Leave You” that is what Diaz writes of, which though very culturally specific, still hold universal questions. They never leave a person even if they are “left” in the past. They come back always and it this return that Diaz captures well.

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