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When My Brother Was an Aztec

by Natalie Diaz

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2048114,108 (4.18)26
"In When My Brother Was An Aztec, Natalie Diaz examines memory's role in human identity. Each section filters memory through specific individuals and settings. The first concentrates on a diabetic grandmother without legs and the landscape, tangible and intangible, of a Native American reservation. The second engages a brother's strife with drug-use and his unraveling of the family, the home. The third grapples with war as a character and its tattering of individuals, families, and communities. Bigotry against Native Americans is confronted throughout the collection, and the speaker's wrestling with identity is carefully woven into each poem. Faithfulness to and departure from tradition and culture are ever-present. Each poem is stitched into the reservation's landscape, while many consider Christian identity. Natalie Diaz experiments with form, from couplets to parts, lists to prose poems, and explores the terrain of poetic predecessors, yet strikes out into new territory, demonstrating her adventurous spirit."--Publisher's description.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 8 (next | show all)
Like Diaz's more recent collection, this one also focuses on being Native, her brother and his addiction, and love. More of this collection focuses on her brother. Her and especially her parents' fear, frustration, and helplessness with the situation is palpable and heartbreaking. ( )
  Dreesie | Feb 9, 2021 |
When My Brother Was An Aztec/he lived in our basement and sacrificed my parents/every morning. It was awful.

Natalie Diaz’s When My Brother Was An Aztec is a legit masterpiece. Go read it, now. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Books of poetry are sometimes navel-gazing, self-absorbed bores but this one is simply amazing. I slurped it down in two short commutes and a stolen hour in a cafe after work because these poems are absolutely mesmerizing. I can’t praise them highly enough.

I love writing that makes me feel like I’ve stepped into another life for a moment and these poems belong to a life heavily lived. There’s such a strong sense of place, character and narrative here, based in Diaz’ Mojave heritage and personal family challenges–specifically her brother’s cycles of addiction and the difficulties that creates within the family. The language, English seasoned liberally with Spanish and Mojave, is absolutely gorgeous. I alternated between being near-tears and making a stank face and saying “Girl you wrote this!” in my head.

I think what I love most about this collection is that there is a balance between the beauty of the language, the technical precision of the craft, and a sense of narrative that places its poems solidly within a very real life and emotions. It reminded me a lot of Yrsa Daley-Ward’s bone or Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous–like those books, Diaz’s collection is really in a class of its own.

This was one of my favorite reads of 2019, and I can’t recommend it enough. *whew* 5 out of 5 stars. .

If you liked this review, follow me on Facebook, Instagram, or check out my blog. Peace, fellow readers!
  EQReader | Dec 1, 2020 |
What I enjoyed most about this collection is Díaz's ability to imbue the mythic onto the realism of her poetry. This amplifies the power of the imagery of the poems, many unrelenting in their bleak assessments of interpersonal relationships. In particular, "No More Cake Here," is a poem steeped in ritual, while also being a black comedy in which life turns more tragic than death.
  b.masonjudy | Apr 3, 2020 |
Disturbing and powerful. Diaz disembowels the ravages an addict subjects the family to - the hopelessness of even achieved love when need is near infinite - the sustained rage at arbitrary inequalities - and spills the guts some times clearly, frequently with haunting obscurity. ( )
  quondame | Mar 30, 2019 |
This was terrific. I don't read poetry with the same kind of critical filter that I do prose, but I really appreciate when a poem or collection knocks me sideways, and this one did. Compelling work about the Native American experience, addiction, love, and loss, with wonderful use of language and imagery. This was a library book but I'm tempted to buy a copy so I can go back to the well, because a lot of this was just brilliant. ( )
1 vote lisapeet | Feb 8, 2019 |
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"In When My Brother Was An Aztec, Natalie Diaz examines memory's role in human identity. Each section filters memory through specific individuals and settings. The first concentrates on a diabetic grandmother without legs and the landscape, tangible and intangible, of a Native American reservation. The second engages a brother's strife with drug-use and his unraveling of the family, the home. The third grapples with war as a character and its tattering of individuals, families, and communities. Bigotry against Native Americans is confronted throughout the collection, and the speaker's wrestling with identity is carefully woven into each poem. Faithfulness to and departure from tradition and culture are ever-present. Each poem is stitched into the reservation's landscape, while many consider Christian identity. Natalie Diaz experiments with form, from couplets to parts, lists to prose poems, and explores the terrain of poetic predecessors, yet strikes out into new territory, demonstrating her adventurous spirit."--Publisher's description.

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