Kanley Stubrick by Mike Kleine


I read The Mystery of the Seventeen Pilot Fish, Mike Kleine’s new play a few weeks ago, so it was interesting to read his new novella shortly after, and compare the two.

Now, having read three of his four works (and the fourth – chronologically the second – is coming up soon), it’s getting more and more obvious to me that Kleine is a world-building author.

Like I said in earlier posts, Kleine’s works are set in the here and now, but beyond that, his world is unique – it’s immediately recognizable, and it’s getting richer and richer in his characteristic symbols, stylistic elements, and references.

Of course, Kleine’s universe is not the universe of a fantasy series, where the characters of one book make appearances in another book, or where the unexplained details of one book’s story become clear in the next book – not the least because his characters don’t tend to hold on to their personality or character-ness even within a single book, and because his books don’t tend to have real stories.

What I mean is that certain events and tropes keep appearing again and again. For instance, both in Pilot Fish and in Kanley Stubrick, there’s a sentence that goes something like this: “Godzilla happens”. Neither of the two books explains what this means, but this is a sufficiently weird sentence for me to immediately notice that it’s there in both books. And because my guess is that Godzilla happens relatively rarely, the fact that it happens in at least two of Kleine’s books makes it highly likely that they are set in the same world. In a world where Godzilla tends to happen – as a matter of fact event, without explanations.

Another frequent trope is traveling/searching, which is both real traveling (or let’s say, place-switching, a manic kind) and searching for (life) meaning. Kleine always deals with questions like this – the questions of identity, the difficulties or impossibility of knowledge and expression, and the quest for and the impossibility of meaning.

And in Kanley Stubrick there’s another main topic, quite a surprising one: love – which can be the symbol for connecting, for being understood by someone.

And this time I can even say something about the story: there’s a couple here, perhaps in April, perhaps in June, living all accustomed to each other and their unhappiness. One day the woman loses her shoes, and even after enlisting the help of friends, the shoes are not found. The man is bored – therefore he goes on a trip, it doesn’t matter where. By the time he gets home, the woman is gone – only an enigmatic message remains after her, a message that directs the man to an unknown city and promises that he’ll find the woman there.

He goes on a quest to find the woman, but he’s not that enthusiastic – it feels like he only follows the message because he has nothing better to do. He almost gives up right in the first city, but then he keeps following the woman’s trail up and down in California (again, the setting is probably not an accident – with my European mind, I can hardly imagine a place more surreal than California). Then at one point, when he’s only a couple of miles away from his destination (or the next stop of his quest) he gives up for good. Later on, he travels elsewhere, joins a cult (just for the sake of experiencing a feeling of community), leaves the cult, is captured, is released from capture, and so on. None of these events mean much – either to him, or in themselves. I don’t mean this as criticism, though.

This is deliberate here, and I don’t know how it happens – as there’s no “real” characterization, there are no motivations, there’s nothing specific here that could awaken emotions in me, but still, it happens: after a while I start to feel deeply for this man and this woman – for the man who searches in vain, and for the woman who wants to be found.

It’s interesting by the way that the personal pronouns referring to the man are always written with initial caps. Partly because of this, partly because of his wandering in the desert of the world, and partly because of something else I can’t pinpoint, I feel there’s something god-like, Christ-like in this man. Ironically, sure, but still heart-breakingly – he seems like a man whom the woman considers a savior, but the man himself is just as much in need of finding a savior as the woman, he also wants to be saved by her, and of course neither of them can save the other. Which is sad.

It’s not all just sadness here, though. As in Kleine’s other works, there’s a whole lot of smart, funny, and ironic details and small episodes in the book that could be analyzed separately for hours. And again, it’s clear that Kleine has a talent for mini-episodes and he can make them very telling.

Just an example: the man is once watching the movie called Nosferatu, and he is simultaneously reading Roger Ebert’s review of the film. This is a great, revealing detail – without professional help, these characters are unable to determine what they should feel or think – not just about something specific – but about anything at all.

The characters are unable to find their way in life without referential points or anchors in movies, music, or TV – but it often turns out that they even have trouble understanding their own points of references – like in this case with the Nosferatu movie, or in a similar case, when the couple watch the movie called Kanley Stubrick, and the man asks the woman about her opinion of American culture.

“i don’t get it,”
she says.

“What do you mean –
what is there to get?”

And this feels less of a criticism of American culture to me than a commentary on the inability to understand.

Connected to this is something else that’s characteristic of Kleine’s writing – the hyper-realistic and hyper-precise depiction of the most banal details of everyday life. For instance, as they are watching TV, the characters notice that a caption is written in Constantia font, or that the sound they hear is the sound of a very specific type of motorbike – but they don’t notice that the person next to them is unhappy, and they even fail to take note of their own unhappiness – they can only express it vaguely, with saying things like “I think I’m bored, but I’m not sure.”

Or like here:

“He feels alone again, like it’s the
first time all over again. He doesn’t
quite know how to feel.”

(Which is all the more interesting because it means that the man has no idea how to feel in the given situation, and also means that he doesn’t know how to feel in general.)

As apparent from the passages I quoted, Kleine this time wrote in a kind of poetry-form (I don’t know what makes poetry poetry, so let’s just stick to the definition for now that a poem is that thing that doesn’t go all the way to the edges of the page), and this form fits this story well, and it also fits Kleine’s minimalistic-enigmatic style that leaves a lot to the imagination but is extremely sensitive to detail.

And this is the first time I don’t have doubts about the possible expiration date of Kleine’s work. I have no idea whether this book will be read 20 years from now, but I’m pretty sure it will be readable even then, because it’s sufficiently universal to remain understandable and enjoyable.

London Fields by Martin Amis


Martin Amis feels like the Michel Houellebecq for one-time literary majors like me who don’t necessarily like to take everything seriously. Amis writes about the same topics as Houellebecq (the world is coming to an end; the era of emotions and „normal” human relationships is past; the only possible connection between two humans is sex; nothing makes sense any more; and so on) in the same postmodern way, and if I were inclined to take him seriously, he would make me want to cut my wrist like Houellebecq does. As opposed to Houellebecq, however, Amis does have a sense of humor, and he gives me the chance to not take him seriously. And this is a chance I gladly take – partly because I don’t think that life is terribly bad, and partly because – if life were really such terribly bad, I would only be able to stand it with lots of humor.

But now on to the novel. London Fields is the story of a carefully planned murder (or suicide), and symbolically the story of the whole world’s suicide. As regards the particular personal suicide and the characters in the novel: the protagonist is Nicola Six, a mind-blowingly seductive, manipulative sex goddess, and mistress of all kinds of erotic games – a woman who’s always been able to give men anything they wanted, except for love, a woman who’s always been able to get everything she wanted from men – except for love. It’s not at all certain that love would have changed anything in her life (Nicola Six is not exactly a sentimental woman), so her lovelessness in life is not the only reason why she decides to commit suicide – but it’s part of the picture.

Nicola, however, doesn’t want to go through the suicide-business alone – she needs someone who does her the favor of killing her. At the beginning of the story, she finds two possible candidates for this role. One of them is Keith Talent, a violent, not particularly winsome con man whose life consists of sex, booze, and darts, and who generally acts like a man perfectly capable of and willing to kill a woman, should the circumstances arise. The other candidate is Guy Clinch, a soft, gentle, exceedingly naive aristocrat, who doesn’t at all look capable of killing anyone – but Nicola Six is just the person to induce murderous rage in the most peaceful man on earth. And then there’s a third man here (and a fourth, hidden in the background) – these latter two are ironic alter-egos for Martin Amis: one of them is the person who knows the most about Nicola’s plans and is writing a supposedly true-life novel about Nicola’s way to self-obliteration, and the other one is also a writer, and he’s the person Nicola has been the most attached to all her life (or not).

Is this already sufficiently tangled, annoyingly over-complicated, and postmodern? I guess so. But I also guess that this is Martin Amis’ method. I haven’t read all his novels, far from it, but from what I’ve read, it seems that he likes to build his stories around a single joke. This is what happens in Money, this is what happens here, and this is what probably happens in some of his other works I either haven’t read or don’t remember anymore. Another typical Amis feature is that he likes to exaggerate (a lot), thereby making everything hardly-real, hardly-credible. Case in point: his characters’ name, and their habits and behavior: Guy Clinch with his out-of-this-world naivety; Keith Talent with his unsustainable habits of drinking, smoking, and womanizing; and Nicola Six with her one-of-a-kind sexual prowess.

And I’m glad Amis writes like this – this way I can pretend while reading that none of it is true. Sure, if I try to glance behind the exaggerations, the irony, and the unreliable narration, then I see how hideous and horrible all this is – but I don’t necessarily want to see all of this. And I appreciate it that Amis lets me decide when and how much I take him seriously. And I like it, too, that it’s also my decision how much I take this novel to be the suicide story of not just Nicola Six but of the whole world. Right now – not too much. Amis can be awesome when he deals with someone’s personal apocalypse but he hardly ever manages to make me believe in his large-scale apocalypses. In fact, I feel as if he himself hasn’t yet figured out – hmm – why exactly he thinks the world is ending, and what’s this world-scale apocalypse anyway. Which is just as well for me.

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood


I saw the film version of this novel a couple of years ago, and I still remember one episode vividly: George and Jim are sitting on the couch, both of them are deeply immersed in their books, but all the while their bodies are touching – casually, naturally, non-sexually – and from their positions, attitudes, light touch it’s obvious that they can talk to each other any minute, and it’s obvious that if one of them starts talking, the other won’t be annoyed.

Isherwood describes this more beautifully than I ever could, and he doesn’t need quite so many explanations, either:

“He pictures the evening he might have spent, snugly at home, fixing the food he has bought, then lying down on the couch beside the bookcase and reading himself slowly sleepy. At first glance, this is an absolutely convincing and charming scene of domestic contentment. Only after a few instants does George notice the omission which makes it meaningless. What is left out of the picture is Jim, lying opposite him at the other end of the couch, also reading; the two of them absorbed in their books yet so completely aware of each other’s presence.”

This is one of the most beautiful and most succinct depictions of intimacy I’ve ever read, and besides its beauty, it also implies everything that happens before two people can exist with each other like this: observing the other and being observed by the other – but not eating up each other; being constanstly aware of the other, even during times of separation; and most importantly: being aware that the other person is another person, not the continuation, supplement, or copy of the first person.

People, in the plural, can be hell – they are all different, they are all others: unknown (all of them – themselves), frightening, with all their different desires. This episode with the couch depicts that state when the other person (not other persons) still – very probably – wants all kinds of things all on his own, and he’s still unknown (and will forever be, being other) – but he’s no longer frightening.

The main character, George loses his partner, Jim – and following this loss everything reverts to its original frightening state. And the way Isherwood writes about this from George’s point of view – condensing everything into the events of a single day – is desperately, heart-breakingly bitter and angry.

But the novel isn’t only about George’s personal loss – it’s also about the state of being a stranger in a frightful world in general, about the ways people try to become less strange, less frightening to one another, and about the realization how random, selfish, ridiculous, and meaningless these experiments in taming other humans can be.

And George is very smart and experienced, and he knows all too well what social interactions mean. He knows that his neighbor doesn’t want to invite him over when she has other guests because she’s afraid the other guests might notice that George is gay. He knows that his eager student at the university only invites him for dinner for the second time because two dinner engagements – according to a weird social code – already signify intimate friendship, and two dinners with George will enable him twenty years later to boast to his university friends: yes, George and I used to be good friends. And he also knows that his friend living next door only requires his company because she needs a manly shoulder to cry on.

Everyone wants all kinds of everything, and – as it often comes up in the novel – everything is symbolic. The relationships, the conversations, the way Americans live – are all symbols for something, but they themselves are not something. At the same time there’s the hope, knowledge, certainty in the novel that finding – or rather: building – something is not impossible. Not impossible – but it takes long. And it’s difficult. And at any moment you might wake up to realize: there won’t be time for it anymore.

First Love, Last Rites by Ian McEwan


The first time I read these short stories – some six years ago – I was stunned, but since then I’ve read several other works by McEwan (far from everything, though), and I realized now upon re-reading this collection that this is indeed a first book, with all the usual weaknesses, stylistic imbalances and the occasional awkwardness of first books. (Still, I’d be happy to write such a weak first book as this.)

McEwan’s usual themes are already present here: he writes about the unknown in us and in the others, about the impossibility of growing up, about unexpected violence, and about the dark side of love, sex, and intimacy – but he writes about all this with a lot more subtlety and eloquence in his later books. Here I sometimes feel that his writing is too direct, too coarse – even spoon-feeding.

For example: the main character in one of the stories was pampered by his mother to an unhealthy degree throughout his childhood, and it seems that this character half-consciously wishes to return to the womb. Then one day he gets locked inside a dark and warm place, where he has quite a pleasant time, and from that moment on, his desire to get back to the womb gets even more pronounced. Oh well – this is certainly not the most subtly symbolic piece of writing I’ve ever encountered.

What is already subtle and amazing here though is the way McEwan builds the layers of words, moods and feelings on one another. What I mean is that even though the stories all stand on their own, if you read them one after the other, their individual effects slowly add up, due to the fact that certain themes and motives come up again and again.

For example, several stories feature rivers, channels, and boats of some kind, and it feels to me as if the abandoned boat that starts its slow journey towards the corrupt and violent London at the end of one of the stories were the same as the boat that’s mentioned by another character in another story when he invites an innocent girl for a walk by the channel. In the end it doesn’t matter that the two boats are different – the connection between the two riversides is made, and this way a connection is made between the characters of the two stories, too. Between characters who are innocent, corrupt, lonely, curious, perverted to different degrees – but it’s not as if there was a strict line between innocence and corruption, curiosity and perversion in these stories. It seems as if everything were already present inside everyone, only waiting for a chance to spring to the surface.

Besides riversides and boats, another recurring motif here is role-playing and being forced into unwanted roles, in all kinds of ages and situations: children play adult roles; adults want to force children around them into either the role of the eternal child, or into the role of the miniature adult. And then there’s role-playing onstage (where it’s perverted to do something for real when you’re only supposed to act – to pretend doing it), and at home (where the overly theatrical gestures get oppressive after a while, as they blur the line between acting and reality). This is a rich and intriguing theme, and McEwan examines it from so many aspects in these eight stories that after a while I’m almost scared to do anything for fear that it would turn out to be only acting, turn out to be something that leads to horrible consequences.

So yes – this is a good, eerie, frightening collection – the only thing that bothers me is really only the occasional coarseness.

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart


Of course it was the title that got me. I’m inexplicably drawn to good titles, and in this case, too, I didn’t care a whole lot about what this novel might be because one look at the title was enough to convince me that this is something I want to read. And in hindsight I still say: this is an excellent title, not the least because through the course of the story these simple words gather new meanings and start to carry a lot of irony – that post-postmodern, sympathetic irony, which is something I deeply like.

The novel, true to its title, tells the story of a sad, super modern love story, in which Lenny Abramov, an almost middle-aged, unattractive, clumsy, but super-kind, caring, emotional, intelligent and honest man of Russian-Jewish origins falls in love with Eunice, a young, extremely hot Korean-American girl, who is emotionally wounded and is not particularly intelligent, either.

Their relationship follows the usual (?) way of the relationships of couples who don’t really fit – there’s a whole lot of power games going on here, and manipulation, exploitation, fighting, and sex withdrawal – and there’s also a whole lot of real tenderness and emotion. Lenny and Eunice both desire something real, something that resembles happiness (to which they don’t feel entitled), they both wish to express their innermost self to the other but are afraid of the exposure and vulnerability that comes with self-expression. Like I said (although there’s really no need for me to say it): it’s a super sad, true love story.

Their doomed love story is told from two perspectives: through Lenny’s diary entries, and through the various online content produced by Eunice – because Lenny is an old-fashioned man, someone who still writes a diary with pen on paper, while Eunice belongs to the new generation – she freely admits that she has never learned to read properly, and that all she can do with texts is scan them for information.

And here’s the bridge to the other aspect of the novel, because this is not only a love story. This is also a partly cynical and partly sympathetic satire about the over-digitalized generation and the demise of America.

As regards the over-digitalization: in the novel everyone carries a gadget called äppärät – a more advanced version of today’s smartphones, through which you can truly reach, share, and rate everything. (For example, the hotness of the guys and girls who happen to be in the same pub as you. And, naturally, everyone is interested in their rating – after all, if you rank last in the hotness list that evening, it’s probably better for you to just go home.) In the world of äppärät users, looking into each other’s eyes, or communication with real words is a rarity, and no private life whatsoever exists as even the supposedly private gathering of old friends is streamed live by one friend who hosts a popular online show.

I’m not one for criticizing online life mindlessly, as I don’t think it leads to inevitable doom, and I don’t like mindless criticism in novels, either. What I like is when someone does his criticism in a scary and smart way (like Dave Eggers in his novel, The Circle). And what I also like is what Shteyngart does here: in fact, he’s not even criticizing – rather, he captures the beauty and fragility of those rare moments when the characters accidentally communicate live and use real language, when they say an old, almost obsolete word, or when they read sections from The Unbearable Lightness of Being to their lover in bed (this is beautiful even if I don’t happen to like that novel). What Shteyngart does is a reversed criticism – he never says how shallow online life is, instead, he shows how beautiful it can be when something happens not online but in reality.

It feels to me that Shteyngart deeply loves language, and the question isn’t so much whether there’s still a chance for romantic love, but whether there’s still a chance for using real language.

And as regards the demise of America: that part is somewhat less sympathetically satirical – the America of the novel is a country ruined by debts, manic spending and credit card usage, fully at the mercy of Chinese, Norwegian, and Arabic creditors – a country where a person’s value is determined by his credit ranking. Now, this is truly scary, and leaves me feeling unhinged. Which is the feeling I ultimately left this novel with.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt


This is such a fantastically enticing novel that halfway through I started to worry that I might just finish it too soon if I’m not careful, so instead of continuing, I decided to pursue a whole array of (half-)substitute activities – I went to the movies, finished two other books, went rollerskating, and so on – just so that the moment when I reach the end might come as late as possible. (If I want to perfectly honest, I first started to worry somewhere around page 10, but the danger didn’t seem that imminent then, given that I still had 760 pages to go.)

But after a while I couldn’t put off finishing it any longer, and the self-denial of the previous days took its vengeance: I read the remaining half in two endless reading sessions. This is not the most perfect way to put it, though – it implies effort and suffering, when reading this novel is, in fact, the exact opposite of that. Pure joy and bliss. And what I didn’t experience when I read Tartt’s The Secret History a couple of years back – the most welcome feeling of forgetting myself – now I got this, too.

This complete relinquishing of the self for the time of reading, this most basic, most urgent curiosity (and then what happened? And what happened after that?), this feeling that I want to learn and know everything: all the streets of New York where the protagonist walks; all the pieces of furniture he touches; the deserts of Las Vegas he inhabits; the feverish cold he lives through; that certain magical bench in Central Park; love’s red hair and thousand-colored scarves; the feeling of walking through icy puddles in soaked-through shoes in Amsterdam around Christmas; the self-destructive, murderous anger, doubt, and remorse of the protagonist. Everything.

I think such strong desire to know absolutely everything is only possible while reading fiction – and what luck that in this novel, we get to know almost everything.

Because this is a slow story, one in which there’s time for events to unfold, for the characters to grow up, and also for them to just fool around sometimes and not move the story forward at all – and when there was a couple of weeks’ or years’ worth of jump ahead in the story, I was almost disappointed because I would have preferred to know even those things that happened in the periods not covered.

So what’s this novel about? As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t really matter, because it’s written so beautifully and precisely, with such perception and strength that it could be about anything, and I would enjoy it.

But anyway: it’s about Theo Decker, a screwed-up, drug-addicted young man suffering both from PTSD and from a hopeless love towards a miraculous, elusive girl. From the (very long) back-story we learn that Theo loses his mother in tragic circumstances when he’s still a child, and in connection with his mother’s death, he acquires a world-famous painting (this is the Goldfinch), which in turn becomes the most important object in his life.

That piece of art, beauty, reality, purity and bliss to which he can always return. That object he can think about in times of distress because even the thought of its existence is enough to fill his life with something other than pure terror and anxiety.

One of the chapters opens with a quote from Nietzsche: „We have art in order not to die from the truth.” And if I wanted to simplify it, I could say that this whole novel is a beautiful and heart-wrenching illustration of this sentence.

The Infatuations by Javier Marías

TheInfatuationsThe young woman, María has her breakfast in the same café for years – and for years she keeps watching a married couple who also spend all their mornings there. She doesn’t interfere with them, she doesn’t stare at them rudely – she simply likes to see them together every morning, since they are a fascinating couple, and it’s evident at first sight that they love each other and greatly enjoy each other’s company and conversation. Then one day they fail to turn up at the usual hour, and months pass before the wife finally reappears – alone. In the meantime, María learned that the husband had been murdered, and when the widow is left alone at her table, María cannot resist the temptation: she goes over to the woman and offers her condolences, because after years of spending her mornings in the company of the couple, she feels that the widow is not a perfect stranger to her.

María’s friendly words then set off a whole chain of events and relationships: the widow, Luisa invites her to her home, and talks to María about her pain, bereavement and grief with surprising honesty. During her visit, María briefly encounters Javier, an old family friend, and later on they strike up an affair with no hidden catch, no strings attached. However, María would love to engage in a more serious relationship with Javier, who, in turn, would like to win Luisa’s heart – and he’s very determined to achieve his aim.

I know this sounds a bit like the plot of a complicated, soap-opera-like love story where everyone’s heart breaks for someone else, but only „complicated” is true here. And not in any negative sense – the novel is complicated simply because nothing is ever simple or clean-cut in Javier Marías’s stories. In his fictional world, every relationship and every conversation can lead to a virtually infinite number of questions, doubts and alternative stories – because no-one can ever be perfectly sure that what he learns about the other person is indeed the truth, a part of the truth, a version of the truth, or simply a lie (or fiction). In spite of this, his characters always crave for knowledge, and they’re willing (or prone) to accept / believe the stories they hear – and if there are no stories told, they invent some which sound pleasant or authentic enough for them.

The characters of this novel are also enchanted by stories (fictions). Javier, for example, while telling María about his love for Louisa and about his hopes of securing the disconsolate widow’s heart sooner or later, keeps referring to a novella by Balzac – basically he’s assuming that the fictitious story somehow substantiates his real (not fictitious) emotions and plans. Or we can take María as well: she works for a book publisher, so by definition she is closely connected to fictions and made-up truths. During her conversations with Louisa and Javier, María is prone to filling out the gaps in their stories by inventing long conversations and complicated chains of events. Her fictitious conversations and background stories often bear an uncanny resemblance to reality, and it often happens that we only realize 200 pages later – when the truth (or a different fiction) is revealed – that the story we read earlier was „only” a figment of María’s imagination. However, these figments of imagination sound just as believable and authentic as the truth.

And even though the concrete events of the novel could easily be summed up in a couple of sentences, it would be nearly impossible to summarize all these „alternative” stories. And it wouldn’t be worth the effort to try this anyway, since the hypnotic effect of the novel mainly derives from these – and from Javier Marías’s wonderfully complex, repetitive, sprawling sentences. And also from what these delightful, uncanny, magical sentences convey: that despite all ambiguity, infatuations do exist – and they dissolve all doubt in the minds of those who experience them.

This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz

HowYouLoseI’m a sucker for good titles. It’s often enough for me to see the title of a book to fall immediately in love with it, without knowing anything else about it. This was also the case with Junot Díaz’s short story collection – the suggestive title, and the wonderfully subdued, slightly melancholic cover of its Hungarian edition (pictured above) amazed me at first sight, and I wanted the read the book at once. Which I did, and I loved it.

This Is How You Lose Her is a loose-knit novel made up of interconnected short stories. The stories are centered around a typical (?) Dominican immigrant family who live in the US. The main character (and also the narrator of all but one of the stories, speaking either in the first or the second person singular) is Yunior, the younger son of the family, and the stories mostly deal with his emotional development and his love affairs: the first one, „The Sun, the Moon, the Stars” is about the end of his relationship with one of his girlfriends whom he cheated on; „Alma” tells the story of a different ending of another relationship; while „Lola” is about the period when Yunior, then a high-school student, got entangled in an affair with a woman several years his senior. There are also a couple of stories which deal with the romantic and sexual goings-on of other people, for instance, the main characters of „Nilda” are Yunior’s brother, Rafa and Rafa’s girlfriend – but even in stories like this we mostly learn about the way the narrator experiences the relationship.

I didn’t do an extensive background check before reading this book, but I realize that several of these stories appeared earlier in the New Yorker or in other magazines as self-standing short stories. And I’m pretty much convinced that these stories can indeed be read separately – they are not that interconnected. However, it’s best to read them in book form – then the self-contained melancholy of the stories adds up into a great, complex melancholy; a melancholy full of inexplicable cravings and desires. The sad-angry mood of these stories is, however, not so heavy as to make the reader completely melancholic, because this book isn’t only about losing all kinds of people and things (loved ones, girlfriends, brothers, spouses; homes and countries) – it’s also about everything that comes before and after the loss: the wild or tender or passionate love-makings and love games (either with the „official” partner or with someone else); the desire and fever which precedes the sexual fulfillment; or the difficulties of growing up and starting over again after a painful break-up – so there’s a lot of vivacity and sexual tension and excitement in this book besides the unmistakable and all-permeating melancholy.

And although this isn’t the most prominent feature for me, in the background of all these gloomy break-up stories there lurk the tensions and difficulties of being an immigrant in the US. We can read about women left behind in the Dominican Republic, awaiting the time when they can join their husbands who are working (and womanizing) in America; there’s a mention of a previously „good” neighborhood from which every white family moves away after immigrant families move in; and we can also read about independent immigrant women who feel a never-ending longing for their home countries, despite their seemingly luxurious new life in America.

Junot Díaz himself is also Dominican-American, and you don’t have to dig deep into his biography to be able the find the autobiographical elements in this novel, but anyway – I feel that you can dispense with the immigrant experience and the autobiographic quality since this novel isn’t good and interesting because of these – these stories are simply good as they are: they are emotional, sensual, passionate, sad, and very powerful.