American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins is one of those few novels where the blurb from another famous writer, Ann Patchett, on the front cover is actually true. For me anyway. I couldn’t put it down and it will remain in my thoughts.
Stephen King wrote of it ” “American Dirt is an extraordinary piece of work, a perfect balancing act with terror on one side and love on the other. I defy anyone to read the first seven pages of this book and not finish it. The prose is immaculate, and the story never lets up. This book will be an important voice in the discussion about immigration and los migrantes; it certainly puts the lie to the idea that we are being besieged by ‘bad hombres.’ On a micro scale–the story scale, where I like to live–it’s one hell of a novel about a good woman on the run with her beautiful boy. It’s marvelous.”
For my thinking it is a book that should be compulsory reading, not just for school children, but for everyone. The subject of refugees is a tension charged subject for most of us. You either believe the refugees should be treated with compassion and kindness and embraced both during their journey and on arrival or you believe that they should be kept out with walls and sent back from whence they came. I know that at the very least Americans and Australians can get into bitter disputes about the way their respective governments deal with refugees. Indeed it is one area that I get into bitter battles with my husband who has no problem with refugees but he believes that most are simply economic migrants and for him that is a totally different issue.
This book addresses these issues. The story revolves around a Mexican woman Lydia and her young son Luca who are forced to flee their home and country. Along the way they meet various characters, some who make the perilous journey better and others who make it worse. The characters are well drawn – they are people we can recognise and we become involved and immersed in the story, travelling the route to American dirt and feeling every emotion Lydia and Luca feel.
The language is compelling and the structure works well. I should perhaps mention that there has been controversy surrounding this book based on the fact that Jeanine Cummins is not Latino. Those that deride the book say that as an American she cannot tell or understand the Mexican persona and that the only people that can tell this story correctly are other Latinos. I don’t agree with this premise. I think it is important that these stories are read by the masses. I have not yet seen a Chicano author hit the book shelves in Australia. Was Harriet Beecher Stowe a slave? We have to be made aware and have our emotions raised. This book does this. Additionally it is fiction that to my reading has been well researched and unless rules have changed it is not imperative that you be of a certain race or culture to write a book about that race or culture. Anyway, I hope you grab yourselves a copy of this book and make your own mind up. Would love to hear what you think once you’ve read it.
Would I recommend this book – I not only recommend it I say you must read it.