Okay. Let’s address the furore surrounding this book first. As you may, or may not, know American Dirt has been both hailed as a masterpiece and as an abomination of a novel.
Written by Jeanine Cummins it has been argued that American Dirt is an inaccurate and racist depiction of the very real challenge many Mexican people face when trying to cross the America/ Mexico border. The argument is based upon the opinion that white American Cummins has no right to tell this story. It’s not her story to tell. It is reported that Cummins received a seven-figure advance for writing this book and this has perhaps fuelled the fire against American Dirt. This along with the fact that the release party featured barbed wire ‘decorations’ means that those who have rallied against the book have had plenty of ammunition to use against it. The PR has not been well handled.
If it wasn’t for the outrage surrounding this book over on Twitter, I probably wouldn’t have given American Dirt a second glance in Waterstones. However, having seen some of the tweets and read some of the articles and reviews, I decided to buy it and see what all the fuss was about.
American Dirt is, at its core, the story of a mother, the love she has for her son and the lengths to which she will go to protect him. Following the brutal murder of their entire family by the local cartel, Lydia and her son Luca must flee Acapulco. With the cartels controlling every town and city in Mexico, nowhere is safe for Lydia and Luca and they must make their way to the border and attempt to cross into America where, they hope, they can find relative safety and anonymity.
As a story I really enjoyed American Dirt. I felt for Lydia, fell a little bit in love with Luca and in the beginning, was charmed by cartel boss Javier. As a work of fiction I’ve no idea how accurate the stories of riding La Bestia (the train across Mexico towards the border) are. No idea how accurate the depiction of life under the cartels is, and no idea of what life in Mexico day-to-day is like. But as a novel and a work of fiction I liked American Dirt, it’s a well written, gripping and intriguing story.
It would appear from the essay at the end of the book that Cummins did do some research – as would be expected from any author writing any work of fiction. There are innumerable authors who have written works of fiction having had no previous experience of what they are writing about – that’s the joy of story-telling. That’s their right as an author – to tell stories.
Did Stephen King really see a killer clown hiding down a drain? No. But he wrote IT.
Did Kenneth Grahame really see various clothed animals floating down a river in a little boat? No but he wrote The Wind in the Willows.
Did Lewis Carrol go to Wonderland? No, but he told us Alice did.
I am in no way trying to make light of the situation in Mexico. I know as well as the next person the problems that countless Mexican people currently find themselves in. How desperate must life be that the best way to escape is to travel thousands of miles on top of a train only to pay someone to smuggle you over the border? My point is this: Cummins chose to write a story of a mother and her son and chose the backdrop of Mexico and the cartels as her story. She could have chosen to write it to the backdrop of Auschwitz – would there have been the same outcry?
Read it. Make up your own mind. I did and I enjoyed it.
Released: January 2020
Publisher: Headline Publishing Group
Genre: Contemporary Fiction