Book Review: American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

There’s been a great deal of controversy about this book online and in the press, but I’ve stayed away from all of that and will be reviewing the book based upon my own thoughts. First off, this book was suggested to me by my lovely wife. She started up her own book club among friends and this was one of the books. Unfortunately, because of the lock down they never got to meet up to discuss the book. They are having a Zoom meet-up soon. Helen thought that the book was quite horrific in places, but couldn’t put it down and that I should read it so that we could talk about it, which is what we did. You might also notice that we managed to snag a signed copy. It is a first edition so maybe it will be worth a small fortune in a few hundred years.

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Lydia, her husband and their 8 year old son Luca live in Acapulco, Mexico. She runs a small book shop and he is a journalist. They have a good life. Lydia befriends a regular in her shop, chatting about books and life in general, bordering on flirting. Her husband writes about the drug wars and the local cartel, specifically an expose on the new drug boss in the area. While the article is factual, it isn’t too harsh on the boss, however, he doesn’t see it that way and sends men to kill the whole family. 15 people brutally murdered but Lydia and Luca escape. Here begins the main body of the book, their attempted journey to evade the drug cartel boss and his henchmen, and to make their way to America.

They first have to escape Acapulco and find their way to the trains running north. This is the most shocking part of the book because it is based on the real life journeys taken by thousands of desperate people every year, as they seek a better life elsewhere. They befriend a couple of sisters, who’s story is also horrific, saving each other many times over. They meet numerous people trying to help, feeding them and giving them shelter. They also meet numerous people that try to rob them, or in the case of the young sisters, rape them. They meet one kind chaplain who explains that many of them will die before they get to the border and that they will all have been robbed by then. In one scene they are rounded up by the local police and forced to pay a ‘donation’ for their release. Of course if they make it to the border they have to find a ‘coyote’ to transport them into America. Some of them are trust worthy, many are not.

Despite the graphic violence and shocking imagery detailed in this book, like my wife I couldn’t put it down. There is also a very interesting essay written by the author at the back of the book. One of the best books that I’ve read in the last few years, and a change from my usual fantasy escapism or travel writing.

 

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