This Is How You Lose Her & Amani's Stuffed Bread
I first read Junot Díaz’s books as a college freshman, and was enamored by his writing, both witty and fierce, and simultaneously poignant. His new collection, This Is How You Lose Her, thrives with the same literary fervor. The narrator, Yunior, is a familiar figure, emerging from several of the stories in Díaz’s first collection, Drown, as well as his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.
It is through Yunior that we experience the devastation of lost love with a distant, yet irrevocable sense of passion and regret.In his characteristic mix of first and second person, Díaz artfully weaves through nine chronologically mixed-up stories, almost exclusively from Yunior’s perspective. Yunior’s sharp tongue propels us alongside his perpetual state of insecurity as both an insider and an outsider in America.
Perhaps most memorable is Invierno, the collection’s most devastating piece, wherein Yunior, along with his older brother Rafa (again, from Drown) and his mother, have been relocated from Santo Domingo to New Jersey by his father, a man he barely knows. The boys are forbidden from leaving the apartment, supposedly due to the cold winter they are unused to. Yet Yunior longs for the world beyond the apartment windows, and remains entangled in Papi’s orders, his mother’s timid nature, and his unfamiliarity with the language and people. As the story gains momentum, the circumstances become cloyingly familiar, leaving us with a wrenching sense of alienation and sorrow. In the final pages, the children and their mother trespass into an unexpectedly majestic rendition of the world outside, heightening the startling allure of the unknown.
Yet Yunior is not a mere victim of the masculine privilege dominating the landscape of this collection, but a perpetrator. Though he attempts to disengage himself from the stereotypical Dominican man, including his brother and Papi, Yunior transgresses. He considers his infidelity and lust in reference to his father and brother’s ways, and deems himself less blameworthy, saying "I'm not a bad guy...I'm like everybody else: weak, full of mistakes, but basically good."
The story is riddled with Rafa’s haunting presence as Yunior stumbles through his journey into manhood. After years of emotional distance with Rafa, Yunior finds their similarities at last, in a funny, yet heartbreaking place. In Miss Lora, a teenage Yunior mulls, “You had hoped the gene missed you, skipped a generation, but clearly you were kidding yourself,” as he comes to the realization that he is not so different. It is easy to identify with Yunior’s sense of helplessness and longing to belong with Rafa, and simultaneously saddening when it only appears to exist in the form of their similar promiscuity.
If anything, Díaz holds Yunior at bay, keeping him utterly impenetrable to the possibility of love until it is gone. The closest he can come to being faithful is to exist in a state of paralysis, recalling the loss, and continuing to love someone even after it is unrequited. Why? Because Yunior cannot expose himself, cannot live with the same vulnerability as Oscar, in Oscar Wao, and thus cannot truly be the recipient of any form of love. At times he is compulsive about protecting himself, and at others he is unaware, simply acting instinctually, but at the heart of his actions is a fear of betrayal, and a divided spirit about the nature of love. And like Rafa, he too becomes insufferably distant, betraying you and leaving a trail of displaced creatures in his wake.
This Is How You Lose Her is a complex journey through the trials of modern love, but more importantly about the inadvertent effects of family, upbringing, and masculine privilege. This week's inspired recipe is a reflection of Yunior’s desire to remain self-contained and protected, and his inability to become vulnerable in the face of love. I adapted this recipe from my mother’s bread recipe, which she came up with herself. It is delicious homemade bread, stuffed with whatever fillings you desire.
AMANI'S STUFFED BREAD
- 3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour (add up to half a cup more if dough feels runny)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1/2 cup warm water (for every 2 tsp. yeast)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup milk
- 2 eggs
- 2 teaspoons yeast
- 1/2 stick butter
- Cheese, meats and vegetables of your choice (for the stuffing)
Preheat oven to 350ºF. In the meantime, heat butter until it is half melted. Heat milk until it is lukewarm.
Mix the lukewarm water with 1 teaspoon sugar. Add the yeast and let it rise a bit. If it rises, go ahead and use it.
In a separate bowl, mix milk, butter and remaining sugar. Then, beat in the eggs.
Next, beat in the yeast/water mixture.
Mix the salt into the flour in a separate bowl. Then, gradually mix this into the bowl with the other ingredients.
When you're done adding the flour and the dough comes together, knead it for some time so that the dough feels well formed.
After the dough is kneaded, put it in a bowl and cover. Then, let rise for 20-30 minutes.
After the dough has risen, press it into a flat circle and lay your stuffing materials on the edge. I used feta cheese, olives, and ground beef.
From here, you must enclose the stuffing materials in the dough. You can do this by rolling it up tightly, or by braiding the dough. If you choose to braid, place the materials in the middle of the flat dough and overlap the outer sections of dough over the filling. Braiding is a more complicated process (my mom helped me do it here), but rolling the dough works just as well in terms of the final product.
Allow the closed dough to rise on a greased baking sheet. Sprinkle the top with sesame or other seeds, if you like.
Bake at 350ºF for 25 to 30 minutes or until golden brown.
Source: I bought this book from Barnes and Noble.
Book image via.