When My Brother Was An Aztec, Natalie Diaz

“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–and 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. .

(Thanks for reading! This is the part where I tell you that this blog contains affiliate links that lead you to Bookshop, where I will earn a commission if you purchase anything after you click. Peace! )

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