american dirt by jeanine cummins
hispanic cultural fiction, 387 PP
On purpose, I avoided reading the details of the controversy circulating around the publication of American Dirt. I wanted to read it without a predetermined bias. I’m glad I took that approach. I’m of the opinion that it doesn’t matter who writes a novel, as long as their research to provide authenticity, and talent for storytelling and character development brings a saga to life.
Jeanine Cummins is not Mexican nor Central American, but she is and identifies as Latina (Puerto Rican and Irish). She’s a writer and an advocate for social justice. She didn’t choose to publish a book about Mexican migrants and the horrific trials of their journey over a Mexican author. The publisher made the choice to select and back her manuscript over others which may have been submitted by Mexican authors. The true power of American Dirt comes from the empathy developed for the main character, Lydia, as she flees her home in Acapulco with her eight-year-son. She starts her journey to “el norte” to escape a shattered life at the hands of a cartel. From riding the top of freight cars, La Bestia, with other migrants to sleeping in the desert, to hiding in Underground Railroad type shelters, you are with Lydia and the others in her group every step north. I was fortunate to join a Zoom call with Jeanine sponsored by Titcomb’s Bookshop, my local independent bookstore. She stands by her conviction that American Dirt is a novel of social justice which drives conversations. I’m impressed with her conviction and give her five stars – a must read in this time of awakening and ownership of self-identity.
One of my favorite books is Memoirs of a Geisha. Arthur Golden is not Japanese, he’s not a woman, nor did he ever work as a geisha. That doesn’t mean the book isn’t masterful, worthy of a nomination for the PBS Great American Reads as a favorite novel. I don’t recall any outcry when it released twenty-one years ago.
That’s the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet.Jhumpa Lahiri
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