“American Dirt,” published Tuesday, tells of a bookstore owner in Acapulco, Mexico, who loses much of her family to a murderous drug cartel and flees north on a terrifying journey with her 8-year-old son. It has been an enlightening experience. Flatiron Books, the otherwise remarkable writers who offered blurbs, and those who have promoted the book as if Cummins truly were the reincarnation of John Steinbeck have all insisted American Dirt is a transformational work of art, aimed to inspire a deeper debate about violence, immigration, and American nativism. He calls American Dirt, “A Grapes of Wrath for our time.” The novel tells the story of Lydia Quixano, a middle-class bookstore owner in Acapulco, Mexico. In both literature and journalism, examples abound of brilliant authors who have illuminated countries and themes that were, initially, outside their familiar milieu. In this week’s episode of “Oprah’s Book Club” on Apple TV+, Winfrey gets to take on the “American Dirt” controversy and is joined by the book’s author, Jeanine Cummins. The major audiences for American Dirt and Ten Thousand Sorrows are white women who are reading about brutalities (a child being crushed by a … American Dirt opens with a scene that is as shocking as it is gripping. Romance Writers of America, a … It doesn't matter now. She has dutifully taken notes and sprinkles the plot with the required quota of palabras en español, for authenticity’s sake. Her existence is upended by an unspeakable act of violence that is, in itself, extreme—the killing of 16 members of a single family would be national news in Mexico. Or Nemesio Oseguera, “El Mencho,” who runs the CJNG cartel, Mexico’s most dangerous and violent criminal organization. Portfolios. Children's Books. I have done so in Mexico and the United States; in shelters, places of worship, and on random corners across California. Already being hailed as “a Grapes of Wrath for our times” and “a new American classic,” American Dirt is a rare exploration into the inner hearts of people willing to sacrifice everything for a glimmer of hope. American Dirt (Jeanine Cummins) – book review, Sign up for The What's On Weekly - enter email below, Leave the World Behind (Rumaan Alam) – book review, The Subjects (Sarah Hopkins) – book review, Small Mercies (Richard Anderson) – book review. I also found the book’s very public aspirations interesting. Lydia Quixano Perez runs a bookstore in the Mexican City of Acapulco until one violent day changes everything. Never less than tense, and completely compulsive, Cummins manages to both make her point and deliver an effective piece of fiction. Parul Sehgal has pointed … Slate relies on advertising to support our journalism. Following this breathless opening, Cummins delivers a page-turning thriller where there is literally danger around every corner for her main characters. I wanted to like American Dirt, Jeanine Cummins’ much-debated novel about a young mother and her son who, after an act of brutality, find themselves in a desperate attempt to escape the clutches of a drug cartel in southern Mexico. Is that OK? Rather, they resemble people like Juan Ulises Laredo, known as “the Virus,” leader of one of the dominant gangs in the region that Cummins depicts. While Jeanine Cummins’ novel American Dirt continues to stir controversy, Sandra Cisneros has reaffirmed her support for the book. That cannot happen with characters whom immigrants themselves could never relate to. In the center of the page is a blurb from author Don Winslow. All rights reserved. As a Mexican journalist living in the United States who has written extensively about both my country’s struggle with violence and the Hispanic immigrant experience, I even wanted to support it. A (mediocre) poet and a romantic, Cummins’ drug lord is sophisticated to the point of parody. “I did not breathe for the whole first chapter,” Blue Willow owner Valerie Koehler told us ahead of the book launch. So while American Dirt may not be the literary fiction breakout that some are touting, it is an important work. (Selected for) Oprah's Book Club, Amazon.com Best Books of the Year, Boston Globe Best Books of the Year Food & Cookbooks. And you'll never see this message again. Gangster Javier is a debonair, book-loving Latin lover. It is not an everyday occurrence, contrary to what Cummins, in her demonization of the country (a useful but cynical narrative ploy to present Lydia as completely alone in a hellish world from the very first page, to get readers rooting for her to escape to the United States) would want the reader to believe. (Under the Volcano is just one of many great ones.) You can cancel anytime. Migration, forced and otherwise, is a live issue not only in the Americas but in many other parts of the world. In reality, it’s been nine days. Let’s see Don Winslow stick a blurb on that. If she wants to write about Mexico, so be it—Mexico and the Mexican immigrant experience are terrific subjects for a novel that deserves many outstanding books, perhaps even a definitive one that could surely be written from the United States by an American writer. He is. “ American Dirt is a literary novel with nuanced character development and arresting language; yet, its narrative hurtles forward with the intensity of a suspense tale. Join Slate Plus to continue reading, and you’ll get unlimited access to all our work—and support Slate’s independent journalism. And when she herself becomes one of them, she finds that she has to rely heavily on the kindness of strangers, people who are aware of the risks that she is taking and her need for support. American Dirt opens with a scene that is as shocking as it is gripping. “In another life, he could’ve been Bill Gates,” Lydia’s husband tells her, just as proto-Gates tries to seduce his wife with a box of chocolates from Jacques Genin, straight from the 7th arrondissement in Paris. First, I thought Cummins had been treated unfairly. Which leads to the real problem here: the decision to package and sell American Dirt not as candy, but as fiction that should be interpreted as emblematic. To understand that for many living in parts of the world riven by violence, leaving is the only answer and the dream of some form of sanctuary is a powerful one, no matter how illusory the reality might be. New York seems a place that is often unwilling to examine its deep and ironic parochialism, and this is one of the results. She does this primarily through Lydia, who is a middle-class bookshop owner until her life is completely upended. “American Dirt” has dramatized ongoing issues of diversity in publishing that mirror criticisms of Hollywood. For most, the journey is more about what they are running from rather than what they are running to. Business Books. By joining Slate Plus you support our work and get exclusive content. The book has a white jacket cover featuring blue birds, reminiscent of traditional Mexican Talavera tiles surrounded by barbed wire. Her antagonist is even less convincing. She knows her conchas, her fútbol, and her abuela. The difference between American Dirt and The Unnamed Country is that Thomas knows the land and her people, and his characters, heroes and villains alike, are created with care and respect, and never regarded as mere faceless masses or grotesque stereotypes. Whether el norte, the United States, is actually the sanctuary they need is never really questioned by these refugees. And that makes all the difference. Eight-year-old Luca is going to the toilet when a bullet fired from downstairs narrowly misses him. If you value our work, please disable your ad blocker. Through their odyssey, Lydia finds that the wave of refugees is much like herself. In a blurb for the book, Sandra Cisneros, the brilliant Mexican American novelist, called American Dirt “not simply the great American novel” but “the great novel of the Americas.” (She has stood by her praise.) It feels like years have gone by since Jeanine Cummins’s novel American Dirt was unleashed onto the book world. They share Lydia’s devotion to their children, but not much else. Many (including Sehgal, in her review) seized on the blurb that novelist Don Winslow had given American Dirt, which is splashed across the novel’s front … Yes, there are surely immigrant women like Lydia Quixano Pérez, but Lydia Quixano Pérez is far from a worthy emblem of immigrant women. Family Photo Books. All contents © 2021 The Slate Group LLC. American Dirt (Jeanine Cummins) – book review . American Dirt will fade into obscurity or it will go down as a very messed up bestseller. It has received glowing praise … At the end of 2019, newsrooms across the United States were sent a book for review: American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. “American Dirt” has dramatized ongoing issues of diversity in publishing that mirror criticisms of Hollywood. The tension is always high and both the reader and the characters themselves are constantly being reminded that the chance of surviving the journey is incredibly low. She was talking about American Dirt, the first blockbuster novel of 2020 and her latest pick for her book club. “American Dirt” sold more than 48,000 copies during its first week, even topping Delia Owens' blockbuster “Where the Crawdads Sing,” which sold just under 25,000 copies. They do not run bookshops with a hidden section of favorite authors, but work in the fields, often struggling to feed their families. Cummins might have created an interesting drug lord, but Javier is pure fiction. There is no reason, literary or otherwise, to challenge an author’s legitimacy to tackle any topic, much less based on her ethnicity or nationality. This is modern Acapulco, a former holiday town now firmly in the grip of the drug cartels. There have been claims of cultural appropriation, of American publishers’ preference for Latin American narratives by non-Latin American writers, and of the commercialisation/fetishising of the trauma of others. The novel is also a perfectly adequate and suspenseful romance thriller. I have disagreed with many of the attempts to question her right to fictionalize Mexico’s predicament simply because she long identified as white. Earlier Wednesday, dozens of authors, including Valeria Luiselli, Viet Thanh Nguyen and Tommy Orange, published an open letter to Winfrey that urged her to reconsider her selection of Cummins’ novel. Lydia and Luca join up with two Honduran sisters – Soledad and Rebeca – who are also fleeing trauma and violence. Cummins’s stated aim in American Dirt is to put a human face on the tide of refugees seeking sanctuary in the United States. Photography. One editor who had advocated for her imprint to acquire the manuscript recalled reading the … You’ve run out of free articles. But along the way they will also encounter people who have already had lives in the United States, or those who cross regularly to do seasonal work. Cummins clearly did her research on Mexico minutiae. And it is one in which it is easy to lose sight of the human dimension, particularly when political rhetoric and xenophobia come into play. American Dirt opens with a scene that is as shocking as it is gripping. “This has opened my eyes in ways that only books can do,” said Oprah, a popular American television personality. (How did so many people seemingly blurb/share this book without supposedly knowing what it was about?) The possibility, for example, that Cummins’ book might, as advertised, offer an antidote to some severe afflictions in American popular culture: a chronically erroneous representation, rooted in ignorance and indifference, of Mexico, and the deluge of stereotypes about both the country and its immigrants that American Dirt promised to counter with complex, accurately developed characters. In response to this, Macmillan US, the American publisher of American Dirt has recently announced a commitment to hiring more Latin American staff and to publishing and promoting more Latin American stories by Latin American writers. Neither one is even remotely representative of immigrant mothers nor Mexican criminals. “American Dirt” was the third novel picked by Winfrey since she began a partnership with Apple last year. Read 22,020 reviews from the world's largest community for readers. Its most profound achievement, though, is something I never could’ve been told… In the center of the page is a blurb from author Don Winslow. By Robert Goodman 10 months ago . The difference, I would say, is love. “American Dirt,” published last week, is a fast-paced novel about a mother-and-son pair of migrants on the run from murderous drug lords. Eight-year-old Luca is going to the toilet when a bullet fired from downstairs narrowly misses him. She is a well-educated and successful owner of a bookshop in Acapulco. Up until the tragedy, she has led a peaceful life, with a happy and stable marriage. Sell your book in the Blurb Bookstore, through Amazon, or in the Global Retail Network of over 38,000 retailers, libraries, and schools. Sell one copy at a time and let Blurb fulfill the orders or place a large order and sell in-person. Oprah gave it her coveted seal of approval, and Stephen King wrote a blurb for it. Even while on the run, Lydia occasionally has time to reflect that before her life went to hell she did not think much about the plight of those other Central Americans passing through Mexico. I honestly don’t care who does it. The novel was acquired by Flatiron Books in 2018 in a reported seven-figure deal and has been talked about in the publishing world ever since. From just being able to leave the cartel controlled state in which they live to jumping onto a moving train (La Bestia), to walking across the Sonoran Desert, the dangers are constant and real. Given the title, I thought it was a book about agriculture. Over the past decade I have interviewed hundreds of immigrant women for Univision and other media outlets. This and over 450 more book reviews can be found on his website Pile By the Bed. About a week and a half ago American Dirt was still generating the kind of press notices most novelists could only dream of. The Great American Novel and the great novel of the Americas about violence, loss, and immigration is still waiting to be written. Print as You Go. According to the blurb, Cummins’ book has stirred up a lot of controversy. There has been a fair amount of controversy following the release of this book. Again: This doesn’t mean that Javier is not an amusing and often terrifying character. What will your book be? To put themselves in the shoes of those who are forced to leave their homes to seek a better, safer life. PREVIEW: ‘American Dirt’ is about Mexicans by an author who isn’t. Although I find the lack of diversity in America’s publishing industry appalling, I couldn’t care less if Cummins is white, not Mexican, or not a first-generation immigrant herself. It was marketed as a groundbreaking novel that captured the experience of migrants coming to the United States along its southern border, and appeared on every list of most anticipated 2020 books. As with many thriller protagonists, she is primarily characterised by her mission: an unswerving drive to protect and save her son, a mission that pushes her to extremes of behaviour she had never imagined. Knowing that the police will do little to help, and that many will already be in the pocket of those who commissioned the killings, Lydia has no choice but to take Luca,  grab what she can and run, knowing that it may be impossible to escape the long arm of the Mexican cartels. What matters is that it'll happen again. None of these guys could have been Bill Gates, in this or any other life. Published Jan. 21, American Dirt has been a best-seller, fulfilling the hopes of the Macmillan-owned Flatiron Books, which outbid several competitors and paid seven figures for … They are often fleeing drunk, abusive, or absent husbands, not an awkward love triangle with a smitten narco dandy. The promise, then, was of a book that could not only be a rewarding read but a transcendental one, a novel that would be emblematic, even canonical. American Dirt is a work of fiction, but it’s not fantasy; Cummins has a responsibility to accurately portray the context she places her characters in, especially since, as an author, she felt she had “the capacity to be a bridge.” He is not an accurate representation of Mexico’s criminals. Already being hailed as "a Grapes of Wrath for our times" and "a new American classic," Jeanine Cummins's American Dirt is a rare exploration into the inner hearts of people willing to sacrifice everything for a glimmer of hope. Not many in Mexico seem to really care that a woman named Jeanine Cummins has dared to write about, A Deposit of Bones Originally Discovered by a Ranch Hand, What Stories of Transition and Divorce Have in Common, How Teaching Writing Makes Jonathan Lethem’s Own Writing Better, The Deranged Tale of an Antifa Protester, a Lusty Liberal Congresswoman, and a Day I’ll Never Get Back, The Stories George Saunders Thinks Every Aspiring Writer Should Read. Comments ( 0 ) The next thing he knows he is cowering in the shower with his mother Lydia; below them, assassins systematically slaughter his whole family. But he is certainly not emblematic. American Dirt book. Cummins has captured the endearing importance of maternal figures in Hispanic life, and that is no small feat. American Dirt effectively uses thriller tropes and some melodramatic story beats to force readers to focus on the human dimension of this global movement. He playfully quotes Gabriel García Márquez and seems to enjoy Sebastian Barry, to Lydia’s infinite delight. that could be worthy of a great novel, much less a definitive one. It is notable that much of the initial criticism of American Dirt came from elsewhere and also that Cummins herself is a New Yorker. American Dirt’s backlash is the latest in a slew of contentious controversies and blunders in the publishing industry. Lydia is solidly middle class. Putting aside the furore (if you can), this is a thoroughly researched and in the end compassionate look at what has become a highly politicised subject. They are escaping poverty, not financially stable family lives. Robert Goodman is a book reviewer, former Ned Kelly Awards judge and institutionalised public servant based in Sydney. She knows Acapulco inside and out and could probably pinpoint the location of El Rollo Aquatic Park. The next thing he knows he is cowering in the shower with his mother Lydia; below them, assassins systematically slaughter his whole family. The problem is, American Dirt is none of those things. In a blurb for the book, Sandra Cisneros, the brilliant Mexican American novelist, called American Dirt “not simply the great American novel” but “the great novel of the Americas.” … American Dirt first landed on the desks of editors in the spring of 2018. Mexican drug lords are not aspiring poets who read Irish fiction or enjoy delicate French cocoa bites. 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