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Razor-sharp view of a polyglot America

A number of excellent books made their debuts in paperback form this year.

To cite just a handful, almost at random: Furnace by Wayne Price, Foal's Bread by Gillian Mears, The Dinner by Herman Koch, To The Island by Meaghan Delahunt and Sightlines by Kathleen Jamie.

Lisa O'Donnell's equally deserving The Death Of Bees won't see hardback publication until January and, for Nikita Lalwani's The Village, readers will have to wait until July.

It seems unfair to single out any one of them, but events have given Junot Diaz's most recent book a significance that was missed on its original publication in September. If, as pundits claim, the Republicans lost this year's presidential election because they underestimated the importance of the Hispanic community, the critical and commercial success of This Is How You Lose Her underlines their error.

Diaz, who was born in the Dominican Republic, came to the US as a child and grew up to be a college professor, author and Pulitzer Prize-winner (for his previous novel, The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao). An author who, in times past, would have been considered marginal is closer to the mainstream of American literature than ever before.

For This Is How You Lose Her, Diaz revived a character named Yunior from his debut, Drown, and placed him at the centre of a series of linked short stories on the theme of love gone sour. The serial philandering habit he picked up from his brother means that many of these stories are about Yunior himself, and reflecting on his own ill-starred love life precipitates a breakdown. But Diaz acknowledges that his literary alter ego (Yunior becomes a writer and academic) is one of the lucky ones and pulls back his gaze to reveal many in the Hispanic community experiencing their own heartbreak, along with bad housing, minimal wages and poor prospects.

The style, too, is worth remarking on. Razor-sharp, infused with Spanish slang, pop culture and sci-fi references, it reflects a fast-moving and fast-changing polyglot America. Those who scrutinise these things will have found that the hardback edition followed this with indecent haste, but, frankly, the cover isn't half as nice.

THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE HER

Junot Diaz, Faber, £12.99

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