Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Chabon v. Diaz

No, it's not a welterweight match-up on ESPN. Michael Chabon, pulitzer prize winner for The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay and Junot Diaz author of the much-lauded The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao are two contemporary writers. Chabon writes from a place where his Judaism and that of his characters is very central. His recent novel, The Yiddish Policeman's Union, takes place in a slightly alternate universe where, after WWII, Jews lost the battle for Israel/Jerusalem to the Palestinians who lived there and were given a temporary homeland in Sitka, Alaska. The area is about to be reverted from a temporary home for the Jews back to Alaskan territory and everyone is having a little trouble with this.

Junot Diaz writes about Domincans in the Diaspora, namely New Jersey. His book is about a dungeons and dragons, nerd-y, sci-fi writing Dominican kid and his family in N.J. A lot of the book takes place in the Trujillo horrors of the island.

Why am I comparing these two? Well, they are very similar. Chabon writes a lot about the Jewish diaspora, peppers his writing with Yiddish-isms and Jewish asides that a non-Jewish reader wouldn't know and he makes no effort to translate or explain. Diaz writesa bout the Domincan diaspora, peppers his writing with Dominican-isms, Domincan/Spanish slang (I think it's Dominican slang because it was not at all similar to Mexican slang which I learned a lot of when I lived with a bunch of Oaxicans in San Francisco), and makes no effort to translate or explain.

The two books, read back-to-back, were very interesting for me because with the Chabon, I felt like the insider and wondered how people on the outside (ie: non-Jews) would relate to this book and with the Diaz, I felt completely on the outside, not in on the jokes or inside view at all and like I was missing a big part of the story. It was an interesting journey to read these so close together. In the end, I really loved both of them and thought they were both great books. However, I do feel like I connected with the Chabon on a gut level and I enjoyed the Diaz on an educational/peer-into-a-strangers-life sort of way. Two very different reactions and two very similarly styled writers. How cool.

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