American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
Well hasn’t this book caused quite the stir for all the wrong reasons. Before I get into that gumf, my message is simple – READ THIS PLEASE – because American Dirt is one hell of a book and Jeanine Cummins is one hell of a writer.
The story is about Mexican woman Lydia and her son Luca who flee Acapulco after their entire family is slaughtered at a BBQ by the Sicario (Mexican drug cartel). Knowing they are next, they fight to make their way to America using the most desperate, dangerous means possible – the Sicario ever hot on their heels.
Reading about the unrelenting viciousness of the Mexican drug world is not an easy tale to swallow and I remain discombobulated and nauseous. More broadly, the desperate plight of Mexican migrants fleeing persecution and poverty to reach American dirt is a story we know well enough and Trump’s infamous Mexican wall has a cameo.
There is so much despair in the pages but knitted throughout too is the beauty of human decency. The pages are filled with the very best and the very worst of humankind. Death and violence are constant companions and I am positive there were entire chapters where I did not breath enough. Actually, that may explain the nausea.
Having spent months travelling in Mexico, I was reminded of the times we were forced to pay off officials to simply move around the country. In hindsight we had some dangerously close, scary calls (thank you, naivety of youth) but despite this, my deep love for this wild country remained untarnished. Mexico is alluring, dangerous and spectacularly beautiful and American Dirt was a reminder of her fierceness.
It is only a matter of time – brouhaha aside – that we’ll see this story on the big screen so let’s segue to ‘the issue’.
Jeanine Cummins is not a Mexican woman and after she received rave reviews by the likes of Oprah and Anne Patchett et al, she bore the brunt of the LatinX literary community and started to receive death threats, so much so, book signings were cancelled across the US.
It seems only a Mexican should tell this story and this Readheads, makes me wild.
Last time I checked, fictitious tales aren’t actually owned by anyone and nowhere in this book does Cummins say the story is based on her actual experiences. Her acknowledgments cover all the sources of her cultural research and the exhaustive list of interviews conducted. She also recommends a list of LatinX authors people could read to learn more.
Fiction plays with the world of the imagined – it is the gift of the author to us to open a window that we may not be able to open ourselves. Let’s remember Memoir of A Geisha – a fabulously transportive book about the ancient world of Japanese women – written by a man. On this point, I wonder what would have happened if a man, rather than a woman had written American Dirt? Dare I cheekily suggest, not much.
So sadly I think American Dirt has become more about dishing dirt on the female author, so join the resistance Readheads and pick up a copy.
But, as you know, this is all just my 2 cents worth.