Drown is a compilation of short stories written by Junot Diaz. Throughout the book there is a common narrator, Yunior, who tells his stories with jumps around from one time period in his life to the next. The stories in the book cover many different themes, including drugs, Latin identity, family, and violence. The characters in the stories can relate to many young adults.
The order of the stories in the book affects the way that one might view the book as a whole. If the stories were arranged in a way that seemed to be random, without much order or chronology, I would personally find the book hard to read, but Diaz seems to be a master of the art of storytelling, and the stories in my opinion flow very well between each other that I didn’t feel like I was reading a collection of short stories, I felt that I was reading just one chapter of the same story to the next.
In the story “Ysrael”, Yunior and Rafa are fairly hateful towards a kid named Ysrael, who, according to the narrative, was bitten on the face by a pig when he was a baby. Yunior and Rafa first hear about Ysrael when they are told a story about him. The story about Ysrael is that when he was a baby a pig bit him on the face. They find out about Ysrael, because a boy told them a story about him. One day the two decide to go and look for Ysrael. When they find him, they don’t make fun of him the way many of the other people do, and Yunior begins to befriend Ysrael and talk with him. He finds they share similar interests, and both have family in the United States. Ysrael tells Yunior that he will be cured when his family has enough money and can send him to the States for treatment. Later when Yunior and Rafa are making their way back toward home, they are talking about Ysrael and Yunior mentions the conversation about the surgery to fix Ysrael that he was told would happen in the States. Rafa tells Ysrael that it’s not going to happen. Rafa, in my view, is a consistent cynic.
Rafa finds this befriending between Yunior and Ysrael as a chance to see what is under the mask. Yunior, being a “follower” when it comes to the relationship he has with Rafa, doesn’t really protest when Rafa hits Ysrael over the head with a bottle, and even goes along with the order to roll Ysrael over so Rafa can remove the mask. Initially, they had thought that seeing what is under the mast would give them a sense of accomplishment, but in actuality it made them feel sick. The character of Ysrael fits in to the narrative of an immigrant arriving in a new country. After years of being around people of similar backgrounds and experiences, when you move to a new country you are exposed to new things that you are not used to, and it can be a shock to your system. Seeing someone that looked like Ysrael was a shock to Yunior and Rafa, as they had never seen someone that looked like that before. Yunior and Rafa later, as you see in the stories that follow, were immigrants to the States experiencing and seeing new things they didn’t see or experience in their home country, the Dominican Republic, and so comfort zones were exited then as well.
I believe that Diaz tells this story, Ysrael, at the beginning of the book as a way of keeping the beginning of the book in as chronological a form as possible to both build up the characters in the reader’s mind, as well as set up for the proceeding stories, which are about the mix of the familiar and the new, differences between life on the island and life in the immigrant communities in the United States.