Book Related Topics, Fiction

Book Review: American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

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“That these people would leave their homes, their cultures, their families, even their languages, and venture into tremendous peril, risking their very lives, all for the chance to get to the dream of some faraway country that doesn’t even want them.”

Lydia is forced to flee the Mexican city of Acapulco with her son, Luca after her entire family was brutally murdered by a cartel chief. This is not a spoiler as the book opens with this brutal scene. What follows, is a journey of a mother trying to survive with her child and escape the reach of a powerful man. Lydia and Luca journey North, hopping on trains and walking so many miles trying to cross the border into the United States. On the way, they meet so many people and characters that make their experience one that’s fascinating to read.

“…if you can’t trust a librarian, who can you trust?”

One good thing this book has going for it is that the author knows how to create characters that you want to root for. Cummings makes you want her characters to succeed on their journey North. Your heart is pounding as they jump on trains,  dodge gang members, get kidnapped, get lost and everything horrible in between. Whether you met the character from the beginning or the last 100 pages of the book, you have this intense desire to see them come to no harm and when that doesn’t always happen it completely breaks your heart. I also think the author did a lot of research for this book and reading her author’s note at the end of this book confirmed that.

“From now on, when we board, each time we board, I will remind you to be terrified,’ she says. ‘And you remind me, too: this is not normal.’

‘This is not normal.’ Soledad nods.”

It’s also super obvious that the author of this novel is a white person writing about brown bodies because, she spends so long describing these brown bodies. I can’t tell you how many over written lines and metaphors included the word “brown” or a metaphor representing the word “brown”. It was like being a black girl on a dating site and being called “chocolate” over and over again. The main character, Lydia comes off very naive and not Mexican at all. I found her surprise at everything I’d think a typical Mexican who grew up in Mexico would be familiar with, very hard to believe. The choices she made that led her and her family to that point, the way her husband who was a reporter and had seen the deadliness of the cartels just trusted her to make those naive decisions. She was very much akin to being a white woman in a horror movie.

I waited until I finished reading this book before I read the many articles about the controversy surrounding this book. I’m not going to lie, I enjoyed this book. This novel is an over written melodramatic thriller which has sparked a war in the literary world but I still enjoyed it for what it was. I completely understand where the criticisms are coming from. This white author was paid a 7 figure sum for this book deal and received accolades from so many big name authors and is now currently on Oprah’s book club list. All to tell stories about a group of people that you are not a member of and a group of people that are not afforded these opportunities to tell their own stories themselves.

I have also read the author’s notes and some of her responses to the criticisms on her book tour, and I do feel some sympathy for her. It all feels very white savior-esque but I wonder what the average Mexican illegal immigrant would think of this book. Would they be worried about the appropriation or be thankful that a book exists that might help push the conversation on immigration in this country forward and make more people sympathetic to their plight?

Anyway, I gave this one 3 stars on Goodreads. Are you going to read this book? Have you heard of the controversy surrounding it? Do you have any opinions about them?

Leggy

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