‘Ysrael’ by Junot Díaz

Ysrael by Junot Díaz, 1995

The magic trick:

Using the story of an excursion to unmask a local myth as a means to demonstrating the way the young narrator learns what to do and what not to do from his older brother

We’ll be doing a full week of stories from Junot Díaz’s Drown. The stories bounce between the Dominican Republic and New Jersey, each setting always seeming to long for or wonder about the other.

We begin with the collection’s opener, “Ysrael.” The plot spark – tracking down this almost-mythical boy Ysrael – is addressed in the first paragraph. In many ways, it’s just a vehicle for the story’s main ideas: the development of our narrator’s sense of right and wrong and his relationship with Rafa, his older brother.

It’s an incredibly troubling and memorable vehicle. But the main takeaway is their sibling relationship. And that’s quite a trick on Díaz’s part.

The selection:

I didn’t mind these summers, wouldn’t forget them the way Rafa would. Back home in the Capital, Rafa had his own friends, a bunch of tígueres who liked to knock down our neighbors and who scrawled chocha and toto on walls and curbs. Back in the Capital he rarely said anything to me except Shut up, pendejo. Unless, of course, he was mad and then he had about five hundred routines he liked to lay on me. Most of them had to do with my complexion, my hair, the size of my lips. It’s the Haitian, he’d say to his buddies. Hey Señor Haitian, Mami found you on the border and only took you in because she felt sorry for you.

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