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To stand still is to die: a new novel follows migrants to 'american dirt'.
by Jeanine Cummins
Hardcover, 400 pages |
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It was over a year ago that I began to hear off-the-charts recommendations from trusted booksellers about a novel called American Dirt, by Jeanine Cummins. The novel's circle of admirers has since swelled to include the likes of Stephen King, Sandra Cisneros, John Grisham and Julia Alvarez.
Such a disparate line-up of blurbs signals what an unusual creature American Dirt is: It's a literary novel, to be sure, with nuanced character development and arresting language; yet, its narrative hurtles forward with the intensity of a suspense tale.
American Dirt 's most profound achievement, though, is something I never could've been told about nor anticipated. Of all the "What if?" novels I've read in recent years — many of them dystopian — American Dirt is the novel that, for me, nails what it's like to live in this age of anxiety, where it feels like anything can happen, at any moment.
American Dirt opens with the sudden violent intrusion of the unthinkable into the mundane. An 8-year-old boy named Luca is standing before the toilet in his grandmother's house in Acapulco when a bullet — one of what sounds like hundreds — flies through the open window. A second later, Luca's mother, Lydia, runs in and shoves him tight against the tile wall of a partially enclosed shower stall. The pair hold their breath as a gunman enters. Without glancing into the shower, he pees and leaves.
Outside, the corpses of 16 family members are scattered around the backyard; they'd gathered earlier that day for a quinceañera, a 15 th birthday celebration. Among the dead is Sebastián, a journalist, who was Lydia's husband and Luca's father. It was Sebastián's exposé of a cartel head nicknamed La Lechuza that sparked this mass execution. For the rest of the novel, Lydia will barely have time to take in her tragic losses. Cummins writes that, "trauma waits for stillness" and, for Lydia, to stand still is to die.
What ensues from that horrific opening is a tense on-the-road ordeal, in which Lydia struggles to save herself and her son from the long reaches of La Lechuza by trying to cross the border to the U.S. First, however, the pair have to get to the border from Acapulco, which is easier said than done.
Mexico has become one sprawling maze of a prison for Lydia and Luca. The cartels rule: They've paid off police, hotel desk clerks and airline ticket agents, and they maintain roadblocks on the highways between cities. The only way to travel north is to walk (over 1,000 miles) or to ride La Bestia , the dangerous trains on which desperate migrants cling to the top of freight cars. With the help of two teenage sisters from Central America, whom they meet along the way, this middle-class mother and son learn how to jump aboard the moving freight cars and hold on tight for their lives.
Cummins doesn't spare her characters from the predatory dangers the road poses, among them kidnapping, violence and sexual brutality. But random acts of kindness also abound: an outstretched hand to steady one's balance atop the freight car, the gift of an old knit cap to ward off cold. Early on in their ordeal, Lydia, who was a bookstore owner in Acapulco, is stunned to realize that what she'd first thought of as a disguise for her and Luca, has become a reality:
She and Luca are actual migrants. That is what they are. And that simple fact, among all the other severe new realities of her life, knocks the breath clean out of [Lydia's] lungs. All her life she's pitied those poor people. ... She's wondered with the sort of detached fascination of the comfortable elite how dire the conditions of their lives must be wherever they come from, that this is the better option. ... [Lydia realizes now that] [a]fter all those years of watching it happen elsewhere, ... Acapulco has joined the procession, ... No one can stay in a brutal, bloodstained place.
Cummins' novel brings to life the ordeal of individual migrants, who risk everything to try to cross into the U.S. But, in its largest ambitions, the novel also captures what it's like to have the familiar order of things fall away and the rapidity with which we humans, for better or worse, acclimatize ourselves to the abnormal. Propulsive and affecting, American Dirt compels readers to recognize that we're all but a step or two away from "join[ing] the procession."
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Review: ‘American Dirt’s’ gripping story of escape falters amid moments of pandering
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Jeanine Cummins’ fourth book, “American Dirt,” is a surprising departure from her previous novels, which mined her Irish ancestry for substance and inspiration. (She’s also of Puerto Rican heritage.) “American Dirt,” according to the author’s note, was shaped by four years of research and a concern for the plight of undocumented immigrants. It charts the heroic escape of a Mexican woman from the clutches of a vindictive drug lord in Acapulco.
Lydia Quixano Pérez is a middle-class Mexican woman who runs her own bookstore while her husband, Sebastián, is a journalist, a hazardous occupation, to say the least, in a country deemed one of the most dangerous for members of that profession. Though wary of the rising violence in the area, Lydia maintains a false sense of security by ensconcing herself in her shop and focusing on her maternal duties at home, where she’s overprotective of her 8-year-old son, Luca.
This relatively sheltered life breaks wide open when a quinceañera in the Pérez residence comes under attack by gunmen, leaving 16 family members dead, including Sebastián. Only Lydia and Luca survive. Though shocked by the assault, Lydia knows “from the very first sound of mayhem in the yard, that Javier was responsible for the attack.” That’s Javier Crespo Fuentes, a frequent client at her bookstore, with whom she became emotionally invested, and whom her husband had profiled as “La Lechuza,” a ruthless leader of a drug cartel.
With their lives threatened, Lydia and Luca embark on a journey out of the city and toward the U.S. border, navigating obstacles and setbacks at every turn, suffocated by a paranoia that one of “the modern bogeymen of Mexico” is waiting at the next corner. Their best fighting chance is to join the Central American migrants on their route to the border: “This is the one benefit to being a migrant, of having effected this disguise so completely: they are nearly invisible. No one looks at them, and in fact, people take pains not to look at them.”
Review: Compelling ‘American Dirt’ humanizes a migration tale with care
Pam Houston reviews Jeanine Cummins’ ‘American Dirt.’ The novel digs into the Mexican border crisis and a mother’s dangerous journey to a better life.
Lydia and her son suffer hunger, threats of physical harm and other indignities just like all the other migrants, including Rebeca and Soledad, two young women from Honduras who become their faithful traveling companions. Lydia, however, is blessed by one stroke of luck after another: from being able to obtain hefty funds from her dead mother’s bank account, to being able to pass as a member of a missionary group (because of her fair features), to finding the right ally in the most dire of situations.
It’s a bit cinematic but indicative of the kinds of privileges that set Lydia apart from her fellow travelers. Yes, she faces the same perils, but as a Mexican citizen of means and an education, she has resources and connections that the others don’t.
Cummins’ decision to center the story on Lydia is a good decision, and I wish the book had remained a narrative about a woman who is willing to do the impossible to save her son. If hopping on La Bestia, the Train of Death, with her child in tow is what it takes to secure his well-being, then Lydia stands as a true testament to the strength and power of motherhood.
But the book ventures into the larger political minefield of immigration, particularly the sensitive territory of Central American migration. By employing the third-person omniscient point of view, Cummins not only shows insights from the unique perspective of Lydia, who is the outsider, but also from the perspectives of characters like Rebeca and Soledad, who are the insiders. The Honduran women’s tragic back stories sound a bit too familiar, and their characterizations are inscribed within an outsider’s wishful but two-dimensional view of women in this situation: They’re illustrious examples of resilience and perseverance; they are defined by their victimhood. That at one point they call themselves “Indian” and not “indigenous” also shows a lack of insider knowledge (or research) on the part of the author.
One supporting character who does benefit from the third-person omniscient point of view is Lydia’s son Luca. He’s a book-smart kid who matures from a boy who’s afraid someone will open the bathroom door on him to the intuitive boy who understands so viscerally the truth of his own mortality. Rebeca senses this growth when she tells him, “You seem a lot older than you are. Like you’re this old man in this tiny body.”
Indeed, it is Luca who surmises that, “though they all come from different places and different circumstances, some urban, some rural, some middle-class, some poor, some well educated, some illiterate, Salvadoran, Honduran, Guatemalan, Mexican, Indian, each of them carries some story of suffering on top of that train and into el norte beyond.”
In “American Dirt,” Cummins tells a highly original story, and I enjoyed following Lydia’s adventure. But the characters’ moralizing and other moments of pandering to social justice language toward the end of the book get in the way of the narrative, which, stripped of the other points of view, could have shined more compellingly. That’s unfortunate because Lydia’s journey is ultimately a story of personal growth. After all, once she was one of “the comfortable elite” who “pitied those poor people,” until fate intervened and she trekked over 1,000 kilometers in their shoes.
Flatiron Books: 400 pages; $27.99
González is a professor of English and director of the MFA program at Rutgers-Newark. He was born in Bakersfield and raised by farmworkers who migrated between Mexico and the U.S.
L.A. Times Book Club events
The book club’s 2020 lineup includes these upcoming author conversations: Jan. 27: Ocean Vuong discusses “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous.” Get tickets . Feb. 20: Luis J. Rodriguez discusses “From Our Land to Our Land” (Jan. 28 release). March 11: Jeanine Cummins discusses “American Dirt” (Jan. 21 release). Info: latimes.com/bookclub
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Intensely suspenseful and deeply humane, this novel makes migrants seeking to cross the southern U.S. border indelibly...
New York Times Bestseller
by Jeanine Cummins ‧ RELEASE DATE: Jan. 21, 2020
This terrifying and tender novel is a blunt answer to the question of why immigrants from Latin America cross the U.S. border—and a testimony to the courage it takes to do it.
Cummins ( The Crooked Branch , 2013, etc.) opens this propulsive novel with a massacre. In a pleasant Acapulco neighborhood, gunmen slaughter 16 people at a family barbecue, from a grandmother to the girl whose quinceañera they are celebrating. The only survivors are Lydia, a young mother, and her 8-year-old son, Luca. She knows they must escape, fast and far. Lydia’s husband, Sebastián, is among the dead; he was a fearless journalist whose coverage of the local cartel, Los Jardineros, is the reason los sicarios were sent, as the sign fastened to his dead chest makes clear. Lydia knows there is more to it, that her friendship with a courtly older man who has become her favorite customer at the small bookstore she runs is a secret key, and that she and her son are marked for death. Cummins does a splendid job of capturing Lydia’s and Luca’s numb shock and then panic in the aftermath of the shootings, then their indomitable will to survive and reach el norte—any place they might go in Mexico is cartel territory, and any stranger might be an assassin. She vividly recounts their harrowing travels for more than 1,000 miles by bus, atop a lethally dangerous freight train, and finally on foot across the implacable Sonoran Desert. Peril and brutality follow them, but they also encounter unexpected generosity and heroism. Lydia and Luca are utterly believable characters, and their breathtaking journey moves with the velocity and power of one of those freight trains.
Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2020
Page Count: 400
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2019
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019
Categories: FAMILY LIFE & FRIENDSHIP
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SEEN & HEARD
Hoover is one of the freshest voices in new-adult fiction, and her latest resonates with true emotion, unforgettable...
by Colleen Hoover ‧ RELEASE DATE: March 18, 2014
Sydney and Ridge make beautiful music together in a love triangle written by Hoover ( Losing Hope , 2013, etc.), with a link to a digital soundtrack by American Idol contestant Griffin Peterson.
Hoover is a master at writing scenes from dual perspectives. While music student Sydney is watching her neighbor Ridge play guitar on his balcony across the courtyard, Ridge is watching Sydney’s boyfriend, Hunter, secretly make out with her best friend on her balcony. The two begin a songwriting partnership that grows into something more once Sydney dumps Hunter and decides to crash with Ridge and his two roommates while she gets back on her feet. She finds out after the fact that Ridge already has a long-distance girlfriend, Maggie—and that he's deaf. Ridge’s deafness doesn’t impede their relationship or their music. In fact, it creates opportunities for sexy nonverbal communication and witty text messages: Ridge tenderly washes off a message he wrote on Sydney’s hand in ink, and when Sydney adds a few too many e’s to the word “squee” in her text, Ridge replies, “If those letters really make up a sound, I am so, so glad I can’t hear it.” While they fight their mutual attraction, their hope that “maybe someday” they can be together playfully comes out in their music. Peterson’s eight original songs flesh out Sydney’s lyrics with a good mix of moody musical styles: “Living a Lie” has the drama of a Coldplay piano ballad, while the chorus of “Maybe Someday” marches to the rhythm of the Lumineers. But Ridge’s lingering feelings for Maggie cause heartache for all three of them. Independent Maggie never complains about Ridge’s friendship with Sydney, and it's hard to even want Ridge to leave Maggie when she reveals her devastating secret. But Ridge can’t hide his feelings for Sydney long—and they face their dilemma with refreshing emotional honesty.
Pub Date: March 18, 2014
Page Count: 384
Review Posted Online: May 7, 2014
Categories: ROMANCE | CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE | FAMILY LIFE & FRIENDSHIP
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by Colleen Hoover
Finding positivity in negative pregnancy-test results, this depiction of a marriage in crisis is nearly perfect.
ALL YOUR PERFECTS
by Colleen Hoover ‧ RELEASE DATE: July 17, 2018
Named for an imperfectly worded fortune cookie, Hoover's ( It Ends with Us , 2016, etc.) latest compares a woman’s relationship with her husband before and after she finds out she’s infertile.
Quinn meets her future husband, Graham, in front of her soon-to-be-ex-fiance’s apartment, where Graham is about to confront him for having an affair with his girlfriend. A few years later, they are happily married but struggling to conceive. The “then and now” format—with alternating chapters moving back and forth in time—allows a hopeful romance to blossom within a dark but relatable dilemma. Back then, Quinn’s bad breakup leads her to the love of her life. In the now, she’s exhausted a laundry list of fertility options, from IVF treatments to adoption, and the silver lining is harder to find. Quinn’s bad relationship with her wealthy mother also prevents her from asking for more money to throw at the problem. But just when Quinn’s narrative starts to sound like she’s writing a long Facebook rant about her struggles, she reveals the larger issue: Ever since she and Graham have been trying to have a baby, intimacy has become a chore, and she doesn’t know how to tell him. Instead, she hopes the contents of a mystery box she’s kept since their wedding day will help her decide their fate. With a few well-timed silences, Hoover turns the fairly common problem of infertility into the more universal problem of poor communication. Graham and Quinn may or may not become parents, but if they don’t talk about their feelings, they won’t remain a couple, either.
Pub Date: July 17, 2018
Page Count: 320
Review Posted Online: May 1, 2018
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018
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A Mother and Son, Fleeing for Their Lives Over Treacherous Terrain
By Parul Sehgal
- Published Jan. 17, 2020 Updated Oct. 14, 2022
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The boy is in the bathroom when the first bullet comes whistling through the window. His mother pushes him into the shower stall, curves her body around his. They hear gunfire in the backyard, where the rest of the family has been celebrating a child’s birthday party.
Sixteen people die that afternoon, murdered by the local drug cartel. The troubles for the survivors — Lydia and her son, Luca, who cower in the bathroom — are only just beginning.
“ American Dirt ,” a new novel by Jeanine Cummins, has been positioned as a breakout hit of the year. The story of a mother and son’s desperate attempt to flee Mexico for America, it arrives on a gust of rapturous and demented praise — anointed “The Grapes of Wrath” for our time, “required reading for all Americans.”
Allow me to take this one for the team. The motives of the book may be unimpeachable, but novels must be judged on execution, not intention. This peculiar book flounders and fails.
Lydia’s husband, Sebastián, slain on the patio, was a reporter who once fearlessly pursued stories about the cartel, which controlled Acapulco. Los Jardineros, as they call themselves, have a taste for baroque punishments and are helmed by a charismatic kingpin. Lydia, meanwhile, ran a bookshop. Her life was quiet, content and enlivened recently by a new friendship with a patron, an older man, devastatingly suave (or so we’re meant to believe), who shared her taste in books. Their bond was instant and deep.
This stranger turns out to be the kingpin. Of course he does; everything follows as predictably as possible. When Sebastián publishes an exposé, the kingpin rewards him by slaughtering his family.
Lydia makes frantic plans to escape. She decides to disguise herself and Luca as migrants and escape to America, until she realizes this is no disguise: “She and Luca are actual migrants. That is what they are. And that simple fact, among all the other severe new realities of her life, knocks the breath clean out of her lungs. All her life she’s pitied those poor people. She’s donated money. She’s wondered with the sort of detached fascination of the comfortable elite how dire the conditions of their lives must be wherever they come from, that this is the better option.”
It begins — a journey of 1,600 miles over 18 days. Sleepless, grieving, paranoid, seeing the cartel’s henchmen everywhere, Lydia schemes their way to La Bestia, the treacherous freight trains migrants use to travel the length of Mexico, and finds a coyote to lead them north. They take up with a street-smart boy carrying a disconcerting amount of cash, and two young women, sisters whose beauty becomes a harrowing liability. The ragtag family lurches forward. I was contractually bound to follow.
There is a fair amount of action in the book — chases, disguises, one thuddingly obvious betrayal — but if you’re at all sensitive to language, your eye and ear will snag on the sentences. There are so many instances and varieties of awkward syntax I developed a taxonomy. There is subtext announced at booming volume. There are the strained similes (when Lydia finds she is unable to pray, “she believes it’s a divine kindness. Like a government furlough, God has deferred her nonessential agencies”). There are perplexing bird analogies (the beautiful sisters look at Lydia, “their expressions ranging like a quarrel of sparrows”; “Mami’s cry, a shrill, corporeal thing, it bubbles out of her like a fully formed bird and it flies, but Mami doesn’t”). Then there are the real masterpieces, where the writing grows so lumpy and strange it sounds like nonsense poetry. I found myself flinching as I read, not from the perils the characters face, but from the mauling the English language receives. Lydia’s expression “is one Luca has never seen before, and he fears it might be permanent. It’s as if seven fishermen have cast their hooks into her from different directions and they’re all pulling at once. One from the eyebrow, one from the lip, another at the nose, one from the cheek.” Yes, of course. That expression.
Why should this matter? you might ask (or Cummins might protest). Shouldn’t the story matter, her effort to individuate people portrayed as a “faceless brown mass” (her words)? In the book’s afterword, she agonizes about not being the right person to write the book (“I wished someone slightly browner than me would write it”) but decides that she has a moral obligation to the story.
I’m of the persuasion that fiction necessarily, even rather beautifully, requires imagining an “other” of some kind. As the novelist Hari Kunzru has argued, imagining ourselves into other lives and other subjectives is an act of ethical urgency. The caveat is to do this work of representation responsibly, and well. The journalist Katherine Boo, who wrote about a Mumbai slum in her National Book Award-winning “Behind the Beautiful Forevers,” and has reported on poverty and disability, often speaks of the “earned fact” — the research necessary before making a claim. “Getting it right matters way more than whether you can make people care,” she has said.
Cummins has put in the research, as she describes in her afterword, and the scenes on La Bestia are vividly conjured. Still, the book feels conspicuously like the work of an outsider. The writer has a strange, excited fascination in commenting on gradients of brown skin: Characters are “berry-brown” or “tan as childhood” (no, I don’t know what that means either). In one scene, the sisters embrace and console each other: “Rebeca breathes deeply into Soledad’s neck, and her tears wet the soft brown curve of her sister’s skin.” In all my years of hugging my own sister, I don’t think I’ve ever thought, “Here I am, hugging your brown neck.” Am I missing out?
The real failures of the book, however, have little to do with the writer’s identity and everything to do with her abilities as a novelist.
What thin creations these characters are — and how distorted they are by the stilted prose and characterizations. The heroes grow only more heroic, the villains more villainous. The children sound like tiny prophets. Occasionally there’s a flare of deeper, more subtle characterization, the way Luca, for example, experiences “an uncomfortable feeling of both thrill and dread” when he finally lays eyes on the other side of the border, or how, in the middle of the terror of escape, Lydia will still notice that her son needs a haircut.
But does the book’s shallowness paradoxically explain the excitement surrounding it? The tortured sentences aside, “American Dirt” is enviably easy to read. It is determinedly apolitical. The deep roots of these forced migrations are never interrogated; the American reader can read without fear of uncomfortable self-reproach. It asks only for us to accept that “these people are people,” while giving us the saintly to root for and the barbarous to deplore — and then congratulating us for caring.
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'american dirt' isn't just bad — its best parts are cribbed from latino writers.
On Assignment for HuffPost.
When I first read a scene about a young boy being crushed to death by a garbage truck in the new novel “American Dirt,” it made me queasy. Not because of its graphic depiction, or because the author, Jeanine Cummins, is not from Mexico, where the novel is set. What bothered me was the deja vu.
I had read this scene before, in Luis Alberto Urrea’s “By the Lake of Sleeping Children,” a nonfiction book that draws from Urrea’s years of humanitarian relief work in the most marginal communities of Tijuana.
Other scenes in “American Dirt” also bear significant similarity to Urrea’s work, and to that of Sonia Nazario, whose 2006 narrative nonfiction book, “Enrique’s Journey,” tells the story of a boy who migrates from Honduras to the United States atop the freight train known as La Bestia .
Cummins received significantly more preliminary publicity than those two authors, not to mention an advance of more than $1 million , according to Publisher’s Weekly. And she received it for a book that broadly imitates the existing works of these Latino authors, often poorly so.
“American Dirt,” an Oprah’s Book Club pick released earlier this week and set to be adapted into a movie , describes the journey of Lydia Quixano and her son, Luca, as they flee drug traffickers and cross Mexico on La Bestia . It has already sparked a maelstrom of criticism from many corners, including my own . Some of it concerns the novel’s bad writing; others object to the fact that Cummins does not speak Spanish and seems to have little knowledge of the country she depicts.
But the central issue here is not that a non-Mexican author wrote a book about Mexico. It is that the publishing industry backed an uninformed Anglo writer rather than a well-informed Latino or Latina writer. That is outrageous, patently unfair, and should make any sensible person queasy.
Cummins’ Imaginary Country
Cummins seems to have foreseen at least one criticism: the fact that she is not from Mexico. While Cummins described herself as white up to 2016 , she has recently emphasized that she has a Puerto Rican grandmother. Her Twitter account describes her as an “Irlandaisa Boricua Persona,” which is fractured Spanish for “Irish Puerto Rican Person.” She stresses that her husband is a former undocumented immigrant (he came to the U.S. from Ireland).
And in the epilogue to “American Dirt,” she described her initial misgivings about the project: “I wished someone slightly browner than me would write it,” as if the only prerequisite for writing about contemporary Mexico were “brownness.” Her comment is insidiously shrewd: She is almost daring her critics to focus their complaints on skin color.
Some media outlets seem to have taken the bait, focusing on ethnicity in their coverage of the controversy. The Washington Post titled its article “‘American Dirt’ is a novel about Mexicans by a writer who isn’t. For some, that’s a problem.” In a similar vein, her supporters point to positive blurbs by Latina authors, as if that were the end of the conversation. This fixation on ethnicity, however, misses the point.
As Chicano author and professor David Bowles notes in a critique on Medium , “There is nothing wrong with a non-Mexican writing about the plight of Mexicans. What’s wrong is erasing authentic voices to sell an inaccurate cultural appropriation for millions.”
Cummins is not a person familiar with Mexico. She describes an imaginary country where people put sour cream on their street tacos, dress their chicken with BBQ sauce rather than mole , eat black licorice drops rather than mazapán , and fear the Bogeyman rather than El Coco . “American Dirt” is also riddled with linguistic gaffes, including a character thinking of her own mother as abuela (grandma).
Anyone who has been to Mexico will find the landscape of “American Dirt” quite alien. And yet, certain scenes have a strange ring of authenticity ― which readers of two Latino authors, in particular, will find familiar.
The protagonists’ train trip is strikingly similar to one in “Enrique’s Journey.” Cummins’ descriptions of a garbage dump in Tijuana and the border itself, as well as the trash truck scene, bear resemblance to passages in Urrea’s “By the Lake of Sleeping Children” as well as “Across the Wire.”
I don’t believe any of Cummins’ writing meets the legal definition of plagiarism. She was clever enough to sufficiently reword and reframe these elements, and credits these authors as “inspiration” in her epilogue. (Cummins also acknowledges this real writer within the fictional world of her book, noting in one passage that “Lydia knows a little about las colonias of Tijuana because she’s read the books, because Luis Alberto Urrea is one of her favorite writers...” — though it is not made clear that the scene is straight out of one of Urrea’s books.) Moreover, several elements in her novel lean much more heavily on these preexisting works than on any original research. Indeed, Cummins appears to have never visited some of her locations at all.
A Startling Ring Of Authenticity
The first sign is that some of the sites she describes don’t exist anymore. Lydia and her son meet a 10-year-old boy, Beto, who says he grew up in the garbage dump near the neighborhood of Fausto González in Tijuana. Urrea did years of humanitarian relief work in this dump, and it appears frequently in his early nonfiction books — however, it hasn’t existed for over 10 years. (The novel takes place in the present day.)
“American Dirt” also mimics Urrea’s tone and style, right down to comments on the regional speech of the border region, which Cummins writes is “not exactly the Spanish of Mexico, nor is it the English of the United States, but rather some kind of semantic borderland crossbreed.” But unlike Urrea, Cummins does not speak Spanish, much less understand the intricacies of Mexican regionalisms.
People do not speak some incomprehensible dialect on the border ― they simply have a few unique slang words. Cummins does not know this, which lends itself to some very humorous moments. When a boy in the novel says “Qué onda, güey?” Cummins writes that it’s “borderland slang that marks him immediately to be a northerner,” and that one of the protagonists doesn’t know what it means.
But this phrase is not some inscrutable border patois ― it is one of the most commonly used slang expressions in all of Mexico, equivalent to “What’s up, man?”
“Elements from other authors’ works have been merged, incongruously, with the Mexico of Cummins’ imagination. While some of these 'borrowed' elements are comical, others are outright exploitative.”
Cummins describes a migrant shelter in Celaya, Guanajuato, that Urrea has written about in a Time magazine article and a series of Facebook posts. But her novel doesn’t fully understand the shelter, either. She fails to note that it’s the only migrant shelter in Mexico that provides prosthetic limbs to people who lost theirs on La Bestia, either from falling onto the train tracks or from an attack by the machete-wielding Mara Salvatrucha gang members who practically control the train. These horrors are glaringly absent from Cummins’ story — she even describes the train as the one place that is out of reach from the criminals Lydia is fleeing.
These elements from other authors’ works have been merged, incongruously, with the Mexico of Cummins’ imagination. Myriam Gurba’s review describes it as “a Frankenstein of a book, a clumsy and distorted spectacle.”
While some of these “borrowed” elements are comical, others are outright exploitative. One glaring example is the boy’s death under a garbage truck.
Cummins writes that Beto’s brother “was squashed by the back tire of a garbage truck,” while Beto was “stunned by Ignacio’s screams.” Urrea’s book describes a similar scene: a truck that “lurched into reverse” backed over a boy, with others screaming as they watched.
Cummins’ account of Ignacio’s burial in the dump, beneath a hand-painted cross, is suspiciously similar to the graveyard in the first chapter of Urrea’s book. It is baffling that Cummins would reproduce an entire story of real human tragedy, rather than simply making one up from scratch.
The theme of exploitation was driven even further home during the book’s recent launch party, held in New York City’s exclusive Greenwich Tavern. In an elegant private dining room, the tables were adorned with floral arrangements wrapped in decorative barbed wire, evoking images of the border, the camps, the cages.
The publisher, Flatiron Books, is not engaging in the debate. As of this publication, the company has not responded to requests for comment sent via email and Facebook. Its Twitter account is currently not accepting messages, and has been silent since Tuesday’s announcement of the Oprah Book Club selection. Amazon reviews for the novel appear to have been closed.
Enough Is Enough
Urrea and Nazario are just two of the many Latino authors in the U.S. who have been writing about migration for years: Valeria Luiselli, Reyna Grande, Ingrid Rojas Contreras, and many others have told the migrant story. Still more are prepared to tell it again, with passion and personal experience. This is where the issue of race and ethnicity becomes glaringly apparent.
Latinos, and people of color in general, are woefully underrepresented on the U.S. literary scene. Latinos make up only 6% of the literary industry, according to a 2015 study on diversity in publishing by Lee & Low Books. This, in a nation that is close to 20% Latino.
Thousands of skilled, talented Latino and Latina authors are out there, striving to break into this industry. Plenty of them are every bit as skilled as Cummins ― moreso, I would venture. They are certainly more well-informed on matters of Mexico and migration.
And yet, “American Dirt” was the book that got the seven-figure advance, the spot in Oprah’s Book Club and the acclaim as a “novel that tells the migrant story.” The resulting outrage is finally bringing attention to these major forms of underrepresentation — it is now time for literary tastemakers to take action. Basta ya.
This article has been updated to note that Cummins also references Urrea within the fictional world of “American Dirt.”
Before You Go
David J. Schmidt
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The Problem With American Dirt Is Not Its Author’s Background
I couldn’t care less if jeanine cummins is white, but her book is a failure..
I wanted to like American Dirt , Jeanine Cummins’ much-debated novel about a young mother and her son who, after an act of brutality, find themselves in a desperate attempt to escape the clutches of a drug cartel in southern Mexico. As a Mexican journalist living in the United States who has written extensively about both my country’s struggle with violence and the Hispanic immigrant experience, I even wanted to support it.
First, I thought Cummins had been treated unfairly. I have disagreed with many of the attempts to question her right to fictionalize Mexico’s predicament simply because she long identified as white. There is no reason, literary or otherwise, to challenge an author’s legitimacy to tackle any topic, much less based on her ethnicity or nationality. In both literature and journalism, examples abound of brilliant authors who have illuminated countries and themes that were, initially, outside their familiar milieu. ( Under the Volcano is just one of many great ones.) Although I find the lack of diversity in America’s publishing industry appalling, I couldn’t care less if Cummins is white, not Mexican, or not a first-generation immigrant herself. If she wants to write about Mexico, so be it—Mexico and the Mexican immigrant experience are terrific subjects for a novel that deserves many outstanding books, perhaps even a definitive one that could surely be written from the United States by an American writer. At least for now, not many in Mexico seem to really care that a woman named Jeanine Cummins has dared to write about us.
I also found the book’s very public aspirations interesting. The possibility, for example, that Cummins’ book might, as advertised, offer an antidote to some severe afflictions in American popular culture: a chronically erroneous representation, rooted in ignorance and indifference, of Mexico, and the deluge of stereotypes about both the country and its immigrants that American Dirt promised to counter with complex, accurately developed characters. In a blurb for the book, Sandra Cisneros, the brilliant Mexican American novelist, called American Dirt “not simply the great American novel” but “the great novel of the Americas.” (She has stood by her praise .) The promise, then, was of a book that could not only be a rewarding read but a transcendental one, a novel that would be emblematic, even canonical.
The problem is, American Dirt is none of those things.
Cummins has captured the endearing importance of maternal figures in Hispanic life, and that is no small feat. The novel is also a perfectly adequate and suspenseful romance thriller. Cummins clearly did her research on Mexico minutiae. She knows Acapulco inside and out and could probably pinpoint the location of El Rollo Aquatic Park. She has dutifully taken notes and sprinkles the plot with the required quota of palabras en español , for authenticity’s sake. She knows her conchas , her fútbol , and her abuela . What Cummins does not do, though, is offer a depiction of immigrants (or drug lords, for that matter—who will speak for them?) that could be worthy of a great novel, much less a definitive one.
The book spins around two main characters: Lydia Quixano Pérez, the bereaved mother on the run, and Javier Crespo Fuentes, the drug lord who woos and pursues her. Neither one is even remotely representative of immigrant mothers nor Mexican criminals. Lydia is solidly middle class. She is a well-educated and successful owner of a bookshop in Acapulco. Up until the tragedy, she has led a peaceful life, with a happy and stable marriage. Her existence is upended by an unspeakable act of violence that is, in itself, extreme—the killing of 16 members of a single family would be national news in Mexico. It is not an everyday occurrence, contrary to what Cummins, in her demonization of the country (a useful but cynical narrative ploy to present Lydia as completely alone in a hellish world from the very first page, to get readers rooting for her to escape to the United States) would want the reader to believe.
Over the past decade I have interviewed hundreds of immigrant women for Univision and other media outlets. I have done so in Mexico and the United States; in shelters, places of worship, and on random corners across California. It has been an enlightening experience. They share Lydia’s devotion to their children, but not much else. They are escaping poverty, not financially stable family lives. They do not run bookshops with a hidden section of favorite authors, but work in the fields, often struggling to feed their families. They are often fleeing drunk, abusive, or absent husbands, not an awkward love triangle with a smitten narco dandy. Yes, there are surely immigrant women like Lydia Quixano Pérez, but Lydia Quixano Pérez is far from a worthy emblem of immigrant women.
Her antagonist is even less convincing. Gangster Javier is a debonair, book-loving Latin lover. He playfully quotes Gabriel García Márquez and seems to enjoy Sebastian Barry, to Lydia’s infinite delight. A (mediocre) poet and a romantic, Cummins’ drug lord is sophisticated to the point of parody. “In another life, he could’ve been Bill Gates,” Lydia’s husband tells her, just as proto-Gates tries to seduce his wife with a box of chocolates from Jacques Genin, straight from the 7 th arrondissement in Paris.
Again: This doesn’t mean that Javier is not an amusing and often terrifying character. He is. But he is certainly not emblematic. Mexican drug lords are not aspiring poets who read Irish fiction or enjoy delicate French cocoa bites. Rather, they resemble people like Juan Ulises Laredo, known as “ the Virus ,” leader of one of the dominant gangs in the region that Cummins depicts. Or Nemesio Oseguera, “ El Mencho ,” who runs the CJNG cartel, Mexico’s most dangerous and violent criminal organization. None of these guys could have been Bill Gates, in this or any other life. Cummins might have created an interesting drug lord, but Javier is pure fiction. He is not an accurate representation of Mexico’s criminals.
Which leads to the real problem here: the decision to package and sell American Dirt not as candy, but as fiction that should be interpreted as emblematic. Flatiron Books, the otherwise remarkable writers who offered blurbs, and those who have promoted the book as if Cummins truly were the reincarnation of John Steinbeck have all insisted American Dirt is a transformational work of art, aimed to inspire a deeper debate about violence, immigration, and American nativism. That cannot happen with characters whom immigrants themselves could never relate to. The Great American Novel and the great novel of the Americas about violence, loss, and immigration is still waiting to be written. I honestly don’t care who does it.
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American Dirt Book Review
Book review by Dinh.
Read synopsis here.
I was super excited to read American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins because of the controversy surrounding it. The book has been criticized because the author is white, not an immigrant, and her her use of stereotypes exploits Mexican immigrants, in addition to depicting an unauthentic story.
I really didn’t pay attention to these criticism as this novel is a work of fiction . All authors have the liberty to use their imagination . Cummins did do 5 years of research before completing this book and judging the author because she is not an immigrant is ridiculous.
Okay, I will end my two cents here even though I do have more to say about the controversy.
Let’s move on to whether you should read this book or not. The short answer is you should!
I didn’t go into American Dirt with high expectations but was pleasantly surprised how good the book was. It was well worth the read and one of my top reads this year (along with Dear Edward ).
Here’s why you should read American Dirt :
I was pulled into the story from the first page. The story is about a Mexican woman called Lydia and her 8 years old son Luca who have to flee their home because the drug cartel killed 16 members of her family and now are after them.
The story was about their harrowing and perilous journey from Acapulco to the U.S. border. If you haven’t heard about immigrant’s journey to the U.S border it will be an eye opener for you.
I really enjoyed how the book started off. It pulled me in right away. It was dramatic, horrific and surreal. Right away I wanted to know why and how things happened. It kept me turning the pages until the end; it was that good!
I liked how we get to go back in Lydia’s history and find out how it all began. Cummins does a good job in creating a balance between the now and the past so that you get to know Lydia and what she is capable of.
The pace of the book was fantastic. The story moved quickly and it flowed seamlessly. I was eager on finding out what happened next in their journey.
Cummins does a great job in portraying the fear and uncertainty in Lydia’s and Luca’s journey. Whilst there were some scary moments, there were also acts of kindness sprinkled in so emotionally you will be moved.
Find Jeanine Cummins: Website | Facebook | Twitter
Cummins characters are solid and well developed.
I loved the two main characters Lydia and Luca but I also admired the sisters Soledad and Rebeca. The common thread between them was the drug cartel in their respective countries. Although Soledad and Rebeca were from Honduras, they were fleeing because of a cartel member.
- Lydia Quixano Perez
I love how strong Lydia was after her whole family is killed off. She knows if she doesn’t leave Mexico that both her and her son Luca will die. Her survival instincts kicks in and she protects her son.
Lydia was from a middle class family and owns a bookstore. Though she was aware of the drug cartel violence, she did not fear for her life until her journalist husband Sebastian published the story on the new leader of cartel drug war .
I really marveled at Luca and how he dealt with the whole ordeal. As an 8 year old, he was was able to keep it together and do what was necessary to make it to el norte.
I loved the ending, especially the epilogue when we find out what happens to them all. I would have loved to find out more about the asylum process since they were undocumented immigrants.
My Final Thoughts
I loved American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins! I would set aside the controversy and read it as a work of fiction and enjoy the book for its story.
Aside being a powerful portrayal of immigrant’s tale, it’s also about the length a mother would go to protect her child. This book was emotive and pulled my heartstrings.
I highly recommend American Dirt !
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5 thoughts on “ American Dirt Book Review ”
Hey Dinh! American Dirt sounds like another great recommendation. I’m always on the hunt for my next good read & you haven’t steered me wrong yet 🙂 Looking forward to this one!
Hi Jeremy! I love this immigration story and hope you love it as much as I do.
This one started out ok, but it just dragged on and on to me. I couldn’t wait till it was over. This may sound weird, but it was too wordy. What she could have said in 100 words she said in 1000 words.
Hi Kristine! Oh I am surprised American Dirt dragged on for you. I didn’t find it too wordy at all. Hope the next one is a better read! 🙂
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The Literary Edit
Review: American Dirt – Jeanine Cummins
I had planned to write my review of American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins the day after I finished it. But to begin with, I was swept up in such a state of sadness that I couldn’t quite find the words I needed to write about it as eloquently as I would have liked, and then I found myself down something of a Google rabbit hole as I read, watched and listened to all the controversy surrounding it; something I will touch on later in this review.
I was lent a copy by my friend Jane, who owns Gertrude & Alice ; both her and her daughter Kate had read it, and I took it with me to Byron Bay over Australia Day weekend, with plans to start it if – and when – I finished the book I was reading at the time. Alas, I accidentally left said book in the airport, and so started American Dirt shortly after take off.
The book’s opening – in which we meet Lydia and her son Luca, cowering in the bathtub of her mother’s bathroom as sixteen members of their family are gunned down outside – sets both the tone and the pace for the rest of American Dirt, a book that I read with a sense of looming horror and despair over two single sittings. What follows is a powerful portrayal of the of the plight of the migrant, as we witness an innocent mother and her young son desperately – and illegally – attempt to enter the US from Mexico, while fleeing from the cartel who assassinated their family. The grief, the fear, the risks they were forced to take to save both their loved ones and themselves was paramount to the novel; so too was the savagery of the cartel in the pursuit of their victims. At its heart, this is a novel about love and sacrifice and privilege and fear. And while no one is to be trusted, amid much cold-blooded barbarity and those out to make quick buck at the expense of the downtrodden, there are good souls along the way who provide food, water, and shelter to the migrants.
For the last quarter of the American Dirt I could barely draw a breath, but at the same time I didn’t want it to end. I genuinely can’t remember the last time I felt this shaken up, broken and bruised by a book (as anyone who saw me crying in Bondi as I raced through the final pages can attest to). There has been much, much controversy surrounding American Dirt. But, for what it’s worth, here is my take. For me one of the reasons I read is to educate myself, to foster greater empathy for others, and to learn more about cultures I otherwise might not, and I believe that American Dirt has given me a greater understanding of what others are going through. It has given life to faces I only ever see on the news, and a voice to the untold stories of many. Utterly harrowing, heartbreaking, hauntingly beautiful. I don’t think I’ll ever stop thinking about this book.
About American Dirt
También de este lado hay sueños. On this side, too, there are dreams.
Lydia Quixano Pérez lives in the Mexican city of Acapulco. She runs a bookstore. She has a son, Luca, the love of her life, and a wonderful husband who is a journalist. And while there are cracks beginning to show in Acapulco because of the drug cartels, her life is, by and large, fairly comfortable.
Even though she knows they’ll never sell, Lydia stocks some of her all-time favorite books in her store. And then one day a man enters the shop to browse and comes up to the register with a few books he would like to buy—two of them her favorites. Javier is erudite. He is charming. And, unbeknownst to Lydia, he is the jefe of the newest drug cartel that has gruesomely taken over the city. When Lydia’s husband’s tell-all profile of Javier is published, none of their lives will ever be the same.
Forced to flee, Lydia and eight-year-old Luca soon find themselves miles and worlds away from their comfortable middle-class existence. Instantly transformed into migrants, Lydia and Luca ride la bestia—trains that make their way north toward the United States, which is the only place Javier’s reach doesn’t extend. As they join the countless people trying to reach el norte, Lydia soon sees that everyone is running from something. But what exactly are they running to?
American Dirt will leave readers utterly changed. It is a literary achievement filled with poignancy, drama, and humanity on every page. It is one of the most important books for our times
About Jeanine Cummins
Jeanine Cummins is the author of four books: the bestselling memoir A Rip in Heaven, and the novels The Outside Boy, The Crooked Branch, and American Dirt. She lives in New York with her husband and two children.
‘ As American Dirt racks up sales, its author becomes the story ‘, from The New York Times is a brilliant read. The problems with Jeanine Cummins and American Dirt from The Sydney Morning Herald. Oprah Winfrey breaks silence on American Dirt controversy .
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2 comments on “Review: American Dirt – Jeanine Cummins”
It is a sad story book..
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American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins review – panic and pathos on the run from the cartel
An evocative novel of family disaster takes you inside the racing heart of a migrant’s story
A t the opening of Jeanine Cummins’s devastating and timely novel, bookshop owner Lydia and her eight-year-old son, Luca, are the only survivors of a targeted massacre by the Mexican cartel that dominates and terrorises their home town of Acapulco. Sixteen of their relatives have been shot at a family barbecue, including Lydia’s husband and Luca’s father, a journalist who had been investigating and reporting on the drug traffickers.
What follows is the story of a mother’s desperate attempts to keep her son alive, away from the cartel whose influence stretches across Mexico and from whom she knows they will never be safe. It is through their ordeal that Cummins humanises the migrant crisis, delivering a powerful portrayal of the extraordinary lengths people will go to in order to save their loved ones. It is a moving portrait of maternal love and an unflinching description of the experiences of wretched, displaced people on the move.
Lydia and Luca’s journey towards the US border is perilous and terrifying. More than once, Lydia has to run alongside a high-speed train with Luca at her side, scrambling on board with their backpack as it hurtles along. Cummins does not hold back in describing the fate of those who do not time their jump successfully.
Along the way there is hunger, cold and the cruelty – and occasionally kindness – of strangers, while the gnawing terror of discovery by their murderous pursuers is ever present. During the journey, they meet and befriend other migrants, each with their own harrowing story about their need to escape. Two teenage sisters fleeing sexual exploitation are particularly affecting, the brutality of their experiences juxtaposed against their fiercely protective sibling bond.
It is this contrast – familial love against external atrocities – that gives the novel its immediacy and power. Small details – as when Lydia risks losing the rest of their group in order to put a plaster on Luca’s blister – are quietly heart‑wrenching.
What Cummins does so skilfully in the novel is to subvert popular preconceptions about migrants. Lydia is educated, middle-class, escaping to America not in search of better economic opportunities but simply to survive. “She and Luca are actual migrants… All her life she’s pitied those poor people. She’s donated money. She’s wondered with the sort of detached fascination of the comfortable elite, how dire the conditions of their lives must be wherever they came from, that this is the better option.”
Cummins answers this question so compellingly that it is hard to imagine there will be a more urgent or politically relevant novel this year.
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Book Review: American Dirt
Posted by Suanne | Apr 23, 2020 | Book Reviews | 0
American Dirt has been mired in so much controversy, I almost didn’t read it. In the end, though, curiosity pulled me in so I could make up my own mind.
The #MeToo and the #OwnVoices movements have caused a fundamental shift in America and in American literature. As a writer myself, I don’t believe that only POC writers can write a POC story, that only people who have been raped can write a true account of rape, that only women can write female voices, or that only men can write male voices. The key ingredients for any book are a good imagination, empathy, and a sensitivity to the story/voice you are writing.
That said, I agree with Roxane Gay’s article in January’s GAY magazine: “ Creativity demands that anyone should be able to tell the kinds of stories they want, but how those stories are told matters and creative freedom does not grant critical immunity. Perfection isn’t the goal, but accuracy and authenticity are. When people tell stories beyond their subject position, all too often they do it poorly. The depictions are caricatures, rife with stereotypes, flat and distorted. The people whose communities are so poorly represented speak up but are rarely heard. Writers are allowed to make mistakes.Writers are allowed to write bad books. To critique American Dirt isn’t about jealousy or misogyny or censorship. It’s about demanding better .”
I read the acknowledgments / author’s notes at the end and found this phrase particularly icky: “I wished someone slightly browner than me would write it [a true immigrant story]?” So only someone the color of pale toast could write the immigrant story? What quirk in her brain allowed such words to pop out of her mouth, and what idiot in her publishing team thought that would be a good quote? Many people, including Latinx writers, activists, and immigrants, have written books of equal or greater stature. The real “American Dirt” is that the American publishing system is broken. The vast majority of people within the industry are white, view the world with white privilege, and seem committed to promoting that privilege, thus true migrant stories have been written but, sadly, never published.
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American dirt, about the author.
Writer, author, travel photographer, fire-starter. My novel, A DIFFERENT KIND OF FIRE premieres in 2018. I am also just a Texas girl who's seen the world...
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BookBrowse Reviews American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
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The tense and engrossing story of a mother-and-son migrant journey, American Dirt is a truly groundbreaking work of fiction.
Jeanine Cummins' American Dirt hasn't just been positively reviewed by BookBrowse First Impressions readers—it's become our highest-rated book of all time! 33 out of 33 reviewers rated it five out of five stars, scoring it a perfect 5.0 average—the first book out of more than 600 titles to achieve this. What American Dirt is about: It tells the story of a mother and son as they flee drug cartel violence in their hometown of Acapulco. They head north, facing many dangers, and have to draw upon reserves of inner strength they did not know they had (Randi H). Imagine yourself at a family party in Acapulco. The festivities are underway, and everyone is having a wonderful time. In a split second, gunfire breaks out, leaving 16 members of your family dead. You and your son are alive only because he had gone inside and you went in to check on him. You hear the gunmen—cartel members you assume—looking around for survivors. By pure luck and instinct, the two of you survive. But this is only the beginning of the story (Nanette C). Reviewers were immediately drawn in by Cummins' lifelike characters and captivating plot. From the very first page to the last, I was hooked. The story of Lydia and Luca is so beautifully written. I felt I was actually with them on every step of their journey (Amber H). American Dirt captivated me from the moment I read the first page. There were so many twists and turns that were totally unpredictable (Antoinette B). This book has the key elements of what makes a great book—a plot-driven story with characters you care about (Michele H). American Dirt grabbed me from the very first sentence. I couldn't decide whether I wanted to rush through the book or savor every word (Marianne D). While the book recounts traumatic events, readers found joy and beauty in it. There are moments of abject terror, but there are also moments of joy. The way Lydia holds it together for her son reminded me a bit of the father in the movie Life Is Beautiful . American Dirt is a novel you will never forget (Nanette C). This book is compelling, frightening, heartwarming and unforgettable. The migrants can trust no one and yet they find hope, and the courage to keep living, and to love. Lydia and Luca are beautiful characters (Lynn D). Some praise its potential for education and discussion... This is that book. The one you will read and instantly want to share. The one that will spark the discussions we so need to have. I would so love to see this read in high schools across the country. This IS that book (Deborah H). If anything could have the power to change the debate about immigration in this country, it would be this book. It should be required reading for every U.S. citizen (Susan S). There will be some who will say it's too political but how can it not be? The migrant tragedy is real, political and complex and needs to be evaluated with compassion and realism (Margot P). Many readers take pains to express just how highly they think of American Dirt and how deeply it has affected them. There are a few times in your life when you read a book that transforms you. For me, this is one of those books. I found this book riveting from the very first sentence. I might add that I am a very critical reader but there is nothing I can say except to praise American Dirt (Dorothy L). This book actually gave me a book hangover that is making it difficult for me to move on to another story. I can't recommend it enough (Ilyse B). Blurbs have covered the stratosphere heralding the publication of this novel. I am here to tell you that these comments are not hyperbole; all of them are well deserved (Lani S). This will be without a doubt the best book I've read all year, and it has been a year of excellent novels for me. I could not stop reading, I felt so emotionally involved with the characters. My heart ached for them, I felt their terror and unbearable grief. I urge everyone to read this stunning and realistic book (Cheryl S).
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Beyond the Book: A History of Acapulco and Ongoing Cartel Control
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American Dirt Review (Jeanine Cummins)
By: Author MMB-Bookblog
Both a Richard and Judy Book Club and Oprah book club pick, American Dirt is the third novel by Jeanine Cummins.
Released in 2020, it was an instant bestseller, selling over 2 million copies worldwide.
This is my honest American Dirt review.
American Dirt Review: The Plot
American dirt review: my opinion, american dirt controversy, american dirt review summary, you may also be interested in:.
American Dirt is the story of Lydia Quixano Perez, an Acapulco bookshop owner, who is forced to flee her home with her son after her family is murdered by a drug cartel.
They manage to escape the crime scene but are still pursued. Lydia and Luca have no option but to leave their home behind to seek a new life in America as undocumented citizens.
What follows is a harrowing journey of migrants, running for their lives, not to find a better life with more opportunity, but as an attempt to save their lives.
This is a story that grabs you from the very first page. I can honestly say it’s the best opening to a book I’ve read in a long time. It’s a fast-paced, suspenseful tale of fear, grief and the power of a mother’s love.
The media and some politicians would have you believe that migrants are opportunists looking to take and give nothing back. This is a sensitive portrayal of the trauma so many have experienced and how they are really left with no other option.
So many are forced to rely on the compassion and kindness of strangers when their trust has already been shattered. As with The Beekeeper of Aleppo it shows a realistic view of the harrowing journey these migrants must take.
The grief and fear leapt off the page and as a mum I can only imagine the horror of having to place your child in harm’s way to gain a chance of survival. I found myself literally holding my breath as I turned the pages, just hoping for a happier ending for Lydia and Luca and the friends they made.
The supporting characters were well developed and created with such depth. I cared for them as much as the main characters.
The descriptions were so vivid that I could clearly imagine the horror of having to jump aboard a moving train to ensure a chance at survival.
I bought myself a copy before I read about the controversy surrounding the book. Cummins was criticised both in the literary world and the press at large. Some believe a Caucasian such as Cummins should not be writing about a Hispanic woman.
I wasn’t sure what to make of the criticisms. However, after reading this article , I decided to read the book with an open mind. After all, despite the emotive subject, it is a work of fiction and doesn’t claim to be autobiographical.
I found American Dirt to be a fast-paced, gripping novel about a very timely issue. It had me hooked from start to finish and I would definitely recommend it.
This book was featured as a Richard and Judy Book Club pick. Click here to find more books chosen for the Richard and Judy book club.
The Beekeeper of Aleppo Book Review (Christy Lefteri)
Disclaimer: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. For more details see my disclosure policy.
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Forced to flee, Lydia and Luca find themselves joining the countless people trying to reach the United States. Lydia soon sees that everyone is running from something. But what exactly are they running to?
"This powerful new novel promises readers a ride they'll never forget." -- She Reads
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Best Book of the Year
Compelling read. Characters are fully developed. Narrative moves along quickly and chronologically, Couldn't wait to finish it to find out what happens.
Verified purchase: Yes | Condition: new | Sold by: prime_products
Right to the point of the story.
The story got your attention right away so it was an easy read. I loved the fact that the chapters were not long as this makes it much easier to stop at the end of a chapter if needed and pick up where you left off. Much better than having long chapters like some books,
Verified purchase: Yes | Condition: pre-owned | Sold by: discover-books
Dirt breeds more fear
The book was in good condition, but my nerves couldn't take the content right now. There is enough fear in the world and I don't need more - not the fault of the book, it's more my own nerves.
Verified purchase: Yes | Condition: pre-owned | Sold by: dreambooks_co
The story starts out strong and believable but the ending becomes far fetched . Drug cartels are ruthless. I just can't imagine this woman and her son could escape.
Verified purchase: Yes | Condition: pre-owned | Sold by: second.sale
Important book of our time.
A significant story of those without any recourse but to find shelter in another county and the hardships along the way. Written with empathy and realism. Lydia's journey lives with you well past reading.
Verified purchase: Yes | Condition: pre-owned | Sold by: srdiii
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Jeanine Cummins's immoderately hyped third novel, American Dirt, opens with blood-sodden terror as The Owl takes revenge: a machine-gun slaughter at a family barbecue. "There are 16 bodies in...
Jeanine Cummins's American Dirt, the #1 New York Times bestseller and Oprah Book Club pick that has sold over two million copies, is finally available in paperback. Lydia lives in Acapulco. She has a son, Luca, the love of her life, and a wonderful husband who is a journalist.
"American Dirt" seems deeply aware of the discrepancies in power between the desperate people it describes, and both the writer who created it and the reader intended to receive it; the book...
American Dirt opens with the sudden violent intrusion of the unthinkable into the mundane. An 8-year-old boy named Luca is standing before the toilet in his grandmother's house in Acapulco when...
Review: Compelling 'American Dirt' humanizes a migration tale with care Jan. 16, 2020 Lydia and her son suffer hunger, threats of physical harm and other indignities just like all the other...
The blurbs for "American Dirt" were too laudatory. The advance was too big. There were accusations of cultural appropriation, a nebulous and expansive concept whose adherents will parse from...
AMERICAN DIRT by Jeanine Cummins ‧ RELEASE DATE: Jan. 21, 2020 This terrifying and tender novel is a blunt answer to the question of why immigrants from Latin America cross the U.S. border—and a testimony to the courage it takes to do it. Cummins ( The Crooked Branch, 2013, etc.) opens this propulsive novel with a massacre.
" American Dirt ," a new novel by Jeanine Cummins, has been positioned as a breakout hit of the year. The story of a mother and son's desperate attempt to flee Mexico for America, it arrives on...
"American Dirt," an Oprah's Book Club pick released earlier this week and set to be adapted into a movie, describes the journey of Lydia Quixano and her son, Luca, as they flee drug traffickers and cross Mexico on La Bestia. It has already sparked a maelstrom of criticism from many corners, including my own.
The problem is, American Dirt is none of those things. Cummins has captured the endearing importance of maternal figures in Hispanic life, and that is no small feat. The novel is also a perfectly...
I was super excited to read American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins because of the controversy surrounding it. The book has been criticized because the author is white, not an immigrant, and her her use of stereotypes exploits Mexican immigrants, in addition to depicting an unauthentic story.
Jeanine Cummins is the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling novel, AMERICAN DIRT, which was an Oprah Book Club and a Barnes & Noble Book Club selection, has been translated into 34 languages, and has sold more than 2 million copies worldwide.
I also agree with his praise of American Dirt, with the exception of the word "perfect." The novel is a great page-turner, vivid, felicitous in its writing, and as compelling as potato chips. It will have you sitting up way past your bedtime, but I do not think it perfect. I'll come back to that.
American Dirt will leave readers utterly changed. It is a literary achievement filled with poignancy, drama, and humanity on every page. It is one of the most important books for our times About Jeanine Cummins
Review American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins review - panic and pathos on the run from the cartel An evocative novel of family disaster takes you inside the racing heart of a migrant's story
The tortured sentences aside, American Dirt is enviably easy to read. It is determinedly apolitical. The deep roots of these forced migrations are never interrogated; the American reader can read without fear of uncomfortable self-reproach.
The depictions are caricatures, rife with stereotypes, flat and distorted. The people whose communities are so poorly represented speak up but are rarely heard. Writers are allowed to make mistakes.Writers are allowed to write bad books. To critique American Dirt isn't about jealousy or misogyny or censorship. It's about demanding better .".
The tense and engrossing story of a mother-and-son migrant journey, American Dirt is a truly groundbreaking work of fiction. Jeanine Cummins' American Dirt hasn't just been positively reviewed by BookBrowse First Impressions readers—it's become our highest-rated book of all time! 33 out of 33 reviewers rated it five out of five stars, scoring it a perfect 5.0 average—the first book out of ...
Both a Richard and Judy Book Club and Oprah book club pick, American Dirt is the third novel by Jeanine Cummins.. Released in 2020, it was an instant bestseller, selling over 2 million copies worldwide. This is my honest American Dirt review.
Book Synopsis. Jeanine Cummins's American Dirt, the #1 New York Times bestseller and Oprah Book Club pick that has sold over two million copies, is finally available in paperback. Lydia lives in Acapulco. She has a son, Luca, the love of her life, and a wonderful husband who is a journalist. And while cracks are beginning to show in Acapulco ...
American Dirt is a 2020 novel by American author Jeanine Cummins, published by Flatiron Books. The book is about a Mexican bookseller who is forced to flee as an illegal immigrant to the United States, along with her son, after her journalist husband exposes a local drug kingpin.
Product Information. Jeanine Cummins's American Dirt , the #1 New York Times bestseller and Oprah Book Club pick that has sold over three million copies Lydia lives in Acapulco. She has a son, Luca, the love of her life, and a wonderful husband who is a journalist.