"This stunning collection of stories offers an unsentimental glimpse of life among the immigrants from the Dominican Republic--and other front-line reports on the ambivalent promise of the American dream--by an eloquent and original writer who describes more than physical dislocation in conveying the price that is paid for leaving culture and homeland behind." -- San Francisco Chronicle. Junot Diaz's stories are as vibrant, tough, unexotic, and beautiful as their settings - Santa Domingo, Dominican Neuva York, the immigrant neighborhoods of industrial New Jersey with their gorgeously polluted skyscapes. Places and voices new to our literature yet classically American: coming-of-age stories full of wild humor, intelligence, rage, and piercing tenderness. And this is just the beginning. Diaz is going to be a giant of American prose. -- Francisco Goldman Ever since Diaz began publishing short stories in venues as prestigious as The New Yorker, he has been touted as a major new talent, and his debut collection affirms this claim. Born and raised in Santo Domingo, Diaz uses the contrast between his island homeland and life in New York City and New Jersey as a fulcrum for his trenchant tales. His young male narrators are teetering into precarious adolescence. For these sons of harsh or absent fathers and bone-weary, stoic mothers, life is an unrelenting hustle. In Santo Domingo, they are sent to stay with relatives when the food runs out at home; in the States, shoplifting and drugdealing supply material necessities and a bit of a thrill in an otherwise exhausting and frustrating existence. There is little affection, sex is destructive, conversation strained, and even the brilliant beauty of a sunset is tainted, its colors the product of pollutants. Keep your eye on Diaz; his first novel is on the way. -- Booklist
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San José de Ocoa is the capital of San José de Ocoa province in the Dominican Republic, where this story takes place. The "campo" (where the narrator's uncles live) refers to the countryside, which the narrator contrasts with life in Santo Domingo, the national capital of the Dominican Republic. (This annotation contains an image)
This antagonism toward Haiti is a result of a complicated history. Haiti and the Dominican Republic share the island of Hispaniola. Originally inhabited by the Taíno people, Hispaniola was discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1492 and claimed as Spanish territory. The Spanish ceded the western half (Haiti) to France in 1697. Both colonies relied on African slaves to sustain a lucrative sugar cane industry. After Haitian slaves revolted and won independence from France, they invaded the Dominican Republic, occupying it for 22 years. The animosity created by this invasion and a divided colonial heritage has continued over the last two centuries. (This annotation contains an image)
How does the narrator seem to feel about his older brother, Rafa?
Our understanding of Ysrael is limited by the narrator's own understanding. The narrative point of view strongly affects the stories in "Drown." Watch the video below for an explanation of point of view. (This annotation contains a video)
Which option best describes the narrative point of view of this story?
A "cobrador" is the Spanish term for a money collector, in this case, the one who collects the bus fares. Notice the way the narrator seamlessly mingles English and Spanish words in his account. As you continue reading, consider why he does this and what it might reflect.
What are two actions or comments the narrator has made up to this point that reflect his young age?
Why is the narrator most likely crying?
Even Ysrael's clothes mirror his outcast status. His Northamerican clothes make him stand out as different from the other Dominican boys.
Rafa's jealousy is revealed in this dialogue. It is clear that Ysrael has connections in America since he wears American clothes and his kite is imported. It should therefore be believable that Ysrael might also have connections to American doctors. Rafa's own experience with America colors his reaction, however. Rafa has learned not to expect much from America since his own father sends only letters and a few clothes. His bitterness about his own situation is reflected in his conversation with Ysrael.
Who is uglier here: Ysrael or his attackers?
Which of the following is not a theme addressed by the story?
Yunior is narrating this story again. Based on the first sentence, what can you tell about his character's background and personality? Support your response with reference to specific word choices.
Junot Diaz's writing is filled with figurative language. In Yunior's narrative voice, figures of speech often reveal important emotional truths. While pessimism pervades much of his narration, his choice to compare his mother's scent to "wind through a tree" suggests that Yunior has positive associations with his mother. Watch the video below for further discussion of figurative language. (This annotation contains a video)
Did you know that you can look up any English word in the text of the book or the text of the questions and answers? Just click (or press on mobile devices) the word you want to define and hold until the blue text selector pops up. When you release, a define option will appear. Use the dictionary feature to help you choose the best synonym below for the word intrinsic.
A 1980s Volkswagen van. (This annotation contains an image)
Mami's religious actions on this page suggest the mingling of cultures present in Dominican culture. First she seems to evoke a Christian heritage by crossing her children and saying "May God bless you" (Que Dios te bendiga). Then she gives mints as an offering to Eshú, a deity of African origins. Many Caribbean cultures have assimilated traditions from a variety of religious faiths, much as Yunior must learn to assimilate his Dominican roots with his new life in the United States.
Mami is well aware of her husband's mistreatment of Yunior, yet she does very little to defend him against his father's abuses. Instead, she takes small actions, like joining Yunior outside the car while he brushes his teeth, to show her support for her son. How might her character best be described?
Based on the simile "like maybe she'd seen a wasp on the tip of his nose," how does Tía seem to feel about Papi?
In his narration of this story, Yunior jumps around in time. Although the fiesta marks the present in the story, Yunior sees connections between this present and past events, which he retells as flashbacks. Watch the video below to learn about the role of flashbacks. (This annotation contains a video)
Small remarks like this reveal a lot about the male-dominated culture in which Yunior grows up. The men seem to feel entitled to the services the women provide. The fact that Yunior notes their lack of gratitude, however, indicates that he has some basic awareness of this problem.
Although Yunior is the protagonist, his father dominates this story, much like he dominates his family.
Remember Tía's hesitation to kiss Papi? What does "work" mean in her mind?
What is the effect of interlacing flashbacks of Papi's infidelity with the day of the party and the car ride? Consider how Papi's double life influences his sons, his in-laws, and his wife.
Yunior's vomiting represents more than simple physical discomfort. What might be the symbolism behind his vomiting? What might be figuratively "making him sick."
Aurora comes for "something new" -- in other words, drugs. This story deals with the theme of addiction in many forms. Look for the role addiction plays in Yunior's life as you continue reading.
Being young enough to be sent to a juvenile facility suggests Aurora is high school age, and indicates Yunior may be around the same.
The shakes are a sign of drug withdrawal.
What does Yunior recognize about his relationship with Aurora?
Which of Yunior's statements about relationships does not reflect his contradictory understanding of love?
This is an important sentiment in a book about memories. Consider the way Yunior's past continues to shape his present.
Setting plays an important role in this story. How do the descriptions of Yunior's hangouts - the dirty utility room where he meets Aurora, the empty, vomit-filled apartments, the burned out, trash-ridden corner - help develop our sense of Yunior's character?
Aurora is telling Yunior that she was pregnant. Whether she miscarried or aborted is unclear.
In "Aurora," Yunior reveals himself to be a sex and drug addict, a drug dealer, an abusive boyfriend, and even a threat to the elderly (he beats up "an abuelo type"). This is the third story in the book, however, and we are aware of some of the struggles Yunior faced growing up. Does your knowledge of Yunior from "Ysrael" and "Fiesta, 1980" influence your opinion of Yunior in "Aurora"? Explain.
Both Yunior and Aurora express longing for some of the typical components of the American Dream. The American Dream has historically been conceptualized as hard work leading to success and happiness embodied in a stable nuclear family, the house with the picket fence, and the two-car garage (much like the idyllic Cleaver family below in the 1960s television series “Leave It to Beaver”). (This annotation contains an image)
Click on the link below and read the Introduction and Part 1 on the history of the American Dream. Then write three to four sentences on how Yunior's experience in America compares to the historical idea of the American Dream.http://americanradioworks.publicradio.org/features/americandream/a1.html#part2
The Spanish word "aguantando" is the gerund form of the verb "aguantar" and translates as "bearing, putting up with, resisting."
The 1960s marked a period of political upheaval in the Dominican Republic. Following the assassination of Dominican dictator Trujillo and the deposition of his elected successor President Bosch, various groups, including the military, fought for power. In 1965, fearing a communist takeover, U.S. president Lyndon Johnson sent over 22,000 troops to help ensure stability in the Dominican Republic. U.S. troops left in 1966 after much of the conflict had died down and a new, non-military president had been instated. (This annotation contains an image)
Many writers who use foreign words italicize them. Yunior narrates in English but weaves Spanish words seamlessly throughout, without distinguishing them from his English words. How does his diction (word choice) reflect his character?
"Barrio" is the Spanish word for "neighborhood." In the Dominican Republic, "barrio" is often used to denote the slums that surround big cities. The picture below shows a barrio on the outskirts of Santo Domingo. (This annotation contains an image)
What contrast does Yunior tend to emphasize between him and his brother?
The influence of Yunior's father is strong, even in his absence. Young Yunior commits these cryptic one-liners to memory even though he does not understand them.
What literary device does this line contain?
This chapter contains an innocent scene in which nine-year-old Yunior and his friend excitedly sail paper boats in the gutter. Cite two incidents from this or a previous childhood story ("Ysrael," or "Fiesta, 1980") that undermine our sense of Yunior's childish innocence.
Note the paradox here of Yunior recording a memory he does not remember.
The man in the red guayabera shirt follows Mami around, much like her coworkers mentioned earlier in the story. What do these men want from Mami?
Once again, we see how the past and the present overlap. In "Aurora," Yunior tries to win Aurora's temporary affections by giving her a pack of cigarettes and then offering her a second one to soften her up. The connection between the past, the present, and the function of memory is just one of the themes emerging in the book. Watch the video below and consider other themes that the book addresses. (This annotation contains a video)
The story does not end with Papi's arrival, though we had been led to expect that it will. What is the effect of the story's concluding with Yunior's thoughts rather than the reality of Papi's arrival?
"Pato" is slang in many Latin American countries for a male homosexual.
This simile suggests that life in the family apartment complex was
How does Yunior seem to feel about being under the water? Support your answer by citing specific words or lines from the highlighted paragraph.
In a strange paradox, Yunior exercises control over Beto even as Beto drowns him. Yunior clearly feels inferior to Beto's intellectual success, but he gains the upper hand here when he refuses to tell Beto what he wants to know. (This annotation contains a link)
What do we learn about Yunior's parents in this scene?
Yunior's tone is harsh and bitter as he describes the setting. He uses words and phrases like "earthworm," "dump," "sickly fuzz," and "a colorless stream of piss" to conjure a sense of revulsion for his current surroundings. Learn more about tone and mood from the video below. (This annotation contains a video)
What is Yunior's tone as he contemplates joining the military?
In an interview, Junot Diaz had this to say about his writing: "I don’t write dialogue really well. What I write really well is silence, the things that the characters don’t say, the gaps between people’s sentences, the ellipses between what we feel, what we see, and what we recognize." Try to consider what Yunior is conveying through his silences or in between his words, both with his mother and with Beto.
“Drown” contains multiple references to water and suffocation. Even the locked windows of Mami and Yunior's apartment create a stifled atmosphere. What does Yunior seem to find most suffocating about Beta’s return home mid-college?
What does Yunior assert about himself as he describes himself as having "heart-leather."
Their ability to converse in Spanish suggests an intimacy Yunior has never achieved with a woman. Spanish is the language of his earliest thoughts and his earliest loves. By maintaining his relationships in English, Yunior has been unable to emotionally share his whole self, but it is clear that he longs for greater emotional intimacy.
Yunior continues to agonize over Loretta, rethinking moments they shared together. Do you believe his claim to have "heart-leather" that prevents him from feeling anymore?
Which word best describes Yunior's tone in the highlighted line?
Does Yunior seem to show a more mature understanding of women in this story than in the previous stories? Support your answer with examples.
Edison, New Jersey
A Gold Crown is a well-known model of pool table. In today's market, Gold Crowns cost upwards of $10,000. (This annotation contains an image)
The map below shows a number of the northern New Jersey cities Yunior delivers to. Perth Amboy, which Yunior has already mentioned in earlier stories, has one of the highest concentrations of Dominicans in the United States. (This annotation contains an image)
Yunior feels stereotyped and judged by the customers he visits. He seems offended by the fact that his customers do not trust him, yet he then admits to routinely stealing from them. The fact that Yunior reacts against a stereotype by fulfilling the stereotype is an example of
Which theme of this story collection does Yunior's description of Charlene help develop?
In Yunior's vision of masculinity, a man should not show emotions. He believes that he has a leather-covered heart and is embarrassed to "let [his heart] hang out." His instinct, to cover his embarrassment, is to pretend he is unaffected by his breakup with Loretta. His insistence that "We're friends" is an attempt to show that he is in control of the situation.
How does Yunior seem to feel about the pool tables he constructs?
What do these wealthy new neighborhoods represent to Yunior?
How does Yunior seem to feel as he examines Pruitt's room?
Watch the video below to learn about static and dynamic characters. Consider whether Yunior shows the characteristics of a static or a dynamic character. (This annotation contains a video)
"Quisqueya" was the native Taíno name for the island of Hispaniola. It means "Mother of All Lands," and is often used by Dominicans to refer to their country. (This annotation contains an image)
Do you think Yunior is telling the truth here?
Does Yunior prove himself to be a dynamic character in this story? Explain.
Write three to four sentences comparing Yunior's inability to achieve the American Dream with that of another character in a 20th century work of literature that you have read. Check the link below for suggestions.https://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/20th-century-american-literature
How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie
What is the purpose of hiding the cheese?
The clip below is a reading of “How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl or Halfie” by the author Junot Diaz. Listen to the segment between 1:29 and 3:35. It begins on the previous page with the paragraph beginning "The directions were in your best handwriting..." and ends with the highlighted line. (This annotation contains a video)
Comment on the audio version of the text you just heard. Discuss one interpretive decision Junot Diaz made that surprised you and explain its effect on your understanding of the scene.
What is Yunior's motivation for pointing out the colorful sunset to girls?
The irony in this story lies in Yunior's counterproductive dating advice. If the point of dating is to grow both emotionally and physically closer to someone, Yunior's elaborate instructions on how to deceive a girl will not succeed in the long run.
Who is the protagonist in this story?
Kaliman is a Latin American superhero. (This annotation contains an image)
What does Ysrael imagine he is?
What theme of this short story collection does Ysrael's encounter with his attackers emphasize?
Although this story is the only one in this collection told entirely in the third person, Yunior is still tied to this story. He too is deformed in his own way and must wear a mask in front of others. Try to determine what Yunior's metaphorical deformity is and how he tries to mask it.
Ironically, Ysrael chases his dreams by running away from reality. What is one instance in which Yunior has demonstrated similar behavior?
What first motivates Ramon (Papi) to seek a new life in the United States?
Although this story began in first person point of view, as it continues it reads more like
We can only speculate where Yunior gets all these details of Papi's history from. The previous stories certainly indicate that father and son were not close, yet somehow Yunior knows minute details of Papi's immigration experience. The mere fact that Yunior tells this story suggests a closeness and sympathy for his father not present in the rest of the book.
"El Jefe," meaning "The Boss," was the term used to refer to the dictator Raphael Trujillo who ruled the Dominican Republic from 1930 to 1961. He was known for his ostentatious clothing and owned nearly 2,000 suits. (This annotation contains an image)
What impression of Papi does Yunior create through his description of Papi's hard work, self-discipline, and raw living conditions?
Where does Papi dream of living?
Here is one more example of women being used as tools or objects. Why does Diaz include so much mistreatment of women? Read the following selection from an article in The Atlantic, entitled “How Junot Diaz Wrote a Sexist Character, but Not a Sexist Book”, by Joe Fassler: “Diaz said he wrote the book, in part, to acknowledge the deep sexism that pervades our culture but frequently remains unaddressed. He admits that, by tackling the topic head-on, he risks writing a book that is perceived as sexist (or is sexist). But he quoted a favorite line from James Baldwin: ‘Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.’" Do you think the book helps readers face the issue of sexism? (This annotation contains a link)
Use the dictionary feature if necessary to choose the best synonym for the word exorbitant.
La Noche Buena refers to Christmas Eve, December 24.
Like Yunior, Ramón is full of contradictions. He is an impressively hard worker, yet he gets drunk so often that a single sober night stands out in his memory. He does not send money home to his family for six months, but he gives away bread to a homeless man. What is your opinion of Ramón as you read "Negocios"? Explain your reasons with reference to the text.
Yunior's own judgment intrudes in the narration here as he calls his father "sly." He suggests that his father used manipulative tactics to gain entry into Nilda's life.
The development of Papi's relationship with Nilda reflects his calculated and determined approach to their marriage. He persists in kissing her until she gives in. Once he begins a romantic relationship with her, he is quickly able to achieve his goal of marriage to an American citizen.
What does the imagery of the refrigerators, lottery machine, and junk food signify for Jo-Jo?
Compare and contrast Papi's perception and attainment of the American Dream with Yunior's. How do their dreams differ? Is one more successful than the other?
Why does Jo-Jo bring Papi to meet his family at the airport?
The title of this story, "Negocios," means "businesses" or "business transactions." Discuss two ways that this story interprets the idea of "business" in Papi's life.
This is not true for all aspects of his life. Papi's planning has helped him acquire jobs, money, and an American wife.
Aside from Nilda's weight gain, what underlying problem is creating conflict in Papi's second marriage?
Just like he was when he approached his father-in-law about coming to the U.S. in the first place, Papi remains focused on the idea of money.
Use the dictionary feature to look up the words patriarchy and misogynistic. Explain whether you think one or both of these terms applies to this novel or particular characters in it. Provide reasons for your assertion.
Try to imagine what may have motivated Yunior to visit Nilda, the woman who indirectly brought so much pain to his mother and to his own childhood.
Compare Drown to another book you have read in which the author uses a distasteful character to make a social critique of some kind. View the link below for book suggestions.https://www.goodreads.com/shelf/show/20th-century-american-literature