American Dirt is a rare exploration into the inner hearts of people willing to sacrifice everything for a glimmer of hope.
Lydia Quixano Perez 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 four 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.
American Dirt will leave readers utterly changed. It is a page-turner; it is a literary achievement; it is filled with poignancy, drama, and humanity on every page. It is one of the most important books for our times.
January 21st, 2020
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My Reading Experience with American Dirt
If you follow along about books online you most likely know that American Dirt is entering the world today with much acclaim and also a lot of questioning. I am one of the lucky ones when it comes to my reading experience of this book. One of the best parts about reviewing books is that I often get to experience a book before there becomes a lot of hype, whether it is positive or negative.
I read American Dirt this past fall, thanks to a friend who passed along her advanced reading copy. This meant I read it before there was a lot of fanfare which in turn, allowed me to take it in for what it was in that moment of time. American Dirt is one of the most powerful books I have ever read. Never before have I read a book that was as heartbreaking and fasted paced about such an important and timely subject.
While I wanted to know what happened, I also felt fully immersed in the journey of these fictional characters. It opened my eyes and humanized something that often feels so very far away from our life here.
So that brings me to who am I?
For those of you that might be newer around here, I am white women, born and raised in New England. We live in Vermont which borders with Canada and obviously, my experiences with immigration issues are few and far between. I am also the perfect person to read this, and maybe so are you.
Everyone has a different perspective which I think is what makes reading so wonderful. We can all read the same exact words and have a very different reading experience. This book was engrossing and also illuminating for me, and what it did for me is what I think the point was, it opened my eyes to issues that don’t enter my mind as frequently as they probably should.
Books like this are like are a starting point for many readers and if they can get people thinking about topics they weren’t before, I think they have succeeded.
Who is Jeanine Cummins?
Quoted from The Los Angele Times article HERE.
“What led Jeanine Cummins to finally decide to write “American Dirt” was her desire to change the public discourse around immigration in the United States — though, from the beginning, she wondered whether she could.
“I wished someone slightly browner than me would write it,” she wrote in an unusually long author’s note at the end of the novel. “But then I thought if you’re a person who has the capacity to be a bridge, why not be a bridge? So I began.”
(***updated on 1/23/20), I have received many messages about this part of my post so I thought I would post an update from another article from USA Today below…As always, I am open to dialogue and feedback and I appreciate those who took the time to respectfully share their feelings, even if they were very different from my own. Thank you.
“Lots of someones “slightly browner” than Cummins did write it. Just last year, Mexican writer Valeria Luiselli published the searingly smart “Lost Children Archive.” In 2018, there was the beautifully written “Fruit of the Drunken Tree” by Colombian writer Ingrid Rojas Contreras. Or there’s even 2004’s Pulitzer Prize finalist “The Devil’s Highway” by Mexican writer Luis Alberto Urrea.”***)
…Some have praised Cummins for humanizing the migrant tale, and for sending a timely and important message to the world about the United States’ failing immigration policies. Others have said the book is riddled with stereotypes and clichés, that it’s inaccurate and an act of appropriation. (In The Times, Rigoberto Gonzalez falls somewhere in between.) In sum, the book has raised divisive questions about censorship, representation, and the politics of fiction, homing in on a single dilemma: Who has the right to tell certain stories?
…For some critics of American Dirt, the problem is Cummins herself. Born in Spain and raised in a working-class family in Maryland, Cummins is not a Mexican national. She’s of mixed ethnicity and has family roots in Puerto Rico; she identifies as Latina and white. Critics have questioned whether she was able to accurately convey the experience of Mexican migrants”
Cummins has not lived the life of the story she is telling, and many people take issue with that. This pushback has brought up the idea of Own Voices, in which stories are told by the people who have lived it.
Reading this feedback a few months after finishing American Dirt myself was an interesting experience and as a white woman, I appreciated the opportunity to listen to the voices who HAVE experienced this journey. I don’t think I am the perfect person to review this book because I don’t have a lot of knowledge in this specific area, but I also wanted to share the WHY behind my positive reading experience a few months ago.
Helpful Resource & Own Voices Author Recommendation:
Los Angeles Times Article:
To read the entire LA Times article written by Dorany Pineda you can click on the link below…
Own Voices Author Yuri Herrara:
Signs Preceding the End of the World is one of the most arresting novels to be published in Spanish in the last ten years. Yuri Herrera does not simply write about the border between Mexico and the United States and those who cross it. He explores the crossings and translations people make in their minds and language as they move from one country to another, especially when there’s no going back.
Traversing this lonely territory is Makina, a young woman who knows only too well how to survive in a violent, macho world. Leaving behind her life in Mexico to search for her brother, she is smuggled into the USA carrying a pair of secret messages – one from her mother and one from the Mexican underworld.
My Final Thoughts…
While the online discourse was eye-opening and important in many ways, it does not change my opinion that this is an important and timely book. I do hope it increases awareness for those who need it (and there are many if you look at the current political climate of our country) and helps open the door to more immigrant voices becoming mainstream moving forward. I think you can read this book AND also look into the many other books on this important topic. I think getting this book into the hands of people who really need it will be invaluable. It might not be THE story, but it is a fiction story, that could be a wonderful entry point for so many.
I have seen and been a part of so many powerful conversations that have stemmed from this book which is probably the best takeaway there can be. Talking and connecting, even if our viewpoints are very different can and do make a difference. I know it did for me.
I would love to know your thoughts on this book and thank you for taking the time to read this review.
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