I was drawn to Diaz’s harsh, illuminative poems about watching her brother struggle with meth addiction, but her speakers contend with many kinds of appetite. The poems collected in When My Brother Was an Aztec range between mournful, angry, reflective, funny, and red hot, but at their centers are Diaz’s observations of life on the Mojave reservation where she grew up and her dizzying aptitudes for plainspokenness and the kind of surreal imagery that feels like being caught up in magic mid-spell. Recommended By Rhianna W., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
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.
“This debut collection is a fast-paced tour of Mojave life. In darkly humorous poems, Diaz illuminates far corners of the heart.” Publishers Weekly
“In her first collection...Natalie Diaz writes with heartfelt grandeur — and occasional needling wit.” Library Journal
“When My Brother Was an Aztec reads with an undoubtedly earnest voice and illustrates Diaz’s capacity for language and metaphor, while still heeding her personal experience.” Coldfront
About the Author
Natalie Diaz, a member of the Mojave and Pima Indian tribes, attended Old Dominion University on a full athletic scholarship. After playing professional basketball in Austria, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and Turkey, she returned to ODU for an MFA in writing. Her publications include Prairie Schooner, Iowa Review, Crab Orchard Review, among others. Her work was selected by Natasha Trethewey for Best New Poets and she has received the Nimrod/Hardman Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry. She lives in Surprise, Arizona.