Junot Diaz’s This is How You Lose Her (2012, faber and faber) is the most impressive book I’ve read this year. (And it’s close to being the most impressive one for the last 12 month, too.) In a way, it could be considered the book-version of an essay I had to write in high school. My English teacher back then once made us write an essay about love, and after throwing a little pubertal tantrum about how this was too much of an invasion of my privacy, I resigned and meticulously enumerated and characterized all the different facets of love I encountered in the relationships to the people close to me. Now while Diaz also centers his story around an ego, Yunior, his love stories are (who would have guessed from that title?!) all failed ones.
Set in a milieu of a Caribbean migrant New York suburb, the language is sprawled with Spanish half-sentences, curse-words, and allusions that I imagine will be difficult to understand for the non-Spanish-speaking reader. However, this makes for an extraordinary vividness and caught me right from the start. The quality of the language stands in stark contrast to the melancholy that spreads through the stories, there’s little hope in love as there is little hope in life, it seems. But it’s not a sad book somehow, more one about the difficult choices people sometimes have to make and on how expectations can turn into self-fulfilling prophecies, and how one mistake can follow you around for years.
How did I come across the book?
I’ve been looking for Haitian Authors a few years ago, and discovered Edwidge Danticat’s novel The Farming of Bones [Huge Recommendation!] on the Parsley Massacre at the Haitian-Dominican Border in 1937. So I continued searching for contemporary writer’s with Caribbean background, and Diaz seems to be one of the big fishes. Then I found This is How You Lose Her on offer for less than a dollar, so I had to get it.
When and where did I read it?
Late January, mostly before going to bed, but also on the bus to work. The paragraphs allow for reading in smaller time slots.
I can’t, she said. I can’t make any mistakes. Why is sex with me a mistake, you demanded, but she just shook her head, pulled your hand out of her pants. Paloma was convinced that if she made any mistakes in the next two years, any mistakes at all, she would be stuck in that family of hers forever. That was her nightmare. Imagine if I don’t get anywhere, she said. You’d still have me, you tried to reassure her, but Paloma looked at you like the apocalypse would be preferable. (p.151f)