American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
Best Literature & Fiction
También de este lado hay sueños. On this side, too, there are dreams.
Lydia Quixano Pérez 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 a few 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.
Forced to flee, Lydia and eight-year-old Luca soon find themselves miles and worlds away from their comfortable middle-class existence. Instantly transformed into migrants, Lydia and Luca ride la bestia – trains that make their way north toward the United States, which is the only place Javier’s reach doesn’t extend. As they join the countless people trying to reach el norte, Lydia soon sees that everyone is running from something. But what exactly are they running to?
American Dirt will leave listeners utterly changed. It is a literary achievement filled with poignancy, drama, and humanity. It is one of the most important books for our times.
If you want to know what happens to a book that has the claim of being an Oprah’s Book Club selection, check out American Dirt. Alternately panned and praised, it is certainly a novel with great expectations. The reviews, as they can be with controversial subjects and authors, are wildly mixed.
Once again, however, I didn’t set out to find this book but happened on it in my search for a good audiobook. It certainly delivered.
Lydia Pérez lives in Acapulco with her family where she owns a bookstore. She has her favorites and the classics and knows her business. When Javier wanders in and chooses two of her favorites, it’s the start of an interesting relationship. She sees the man; smart, charming, handsome, but is ignorant of the fact that he is the new jefe of the drug cartel making a deadly strangle-hold on the city.
Her husband is a journalist and noting what is happening to their peaceful, beautiful tourist destination, writes a scathing profile of Javier. It results in the horrific, violent death of her family—all except her son, eight-year-old Luca whom she manages to save, but Javier will not stop until he has them all. She begins a harrowing exodus from Acapulco to the states.
During the trip north, the reader (or listener) is introduced to a number of migrants, not just from Mexico, but those fleeing untenable conditions in their own countries, from juveniles and older all being guided in their trek from Mexico by a coyote of successful reputation.
While Lydia and Luca are the main characters, the support characters are well developed and elicit strong emotions from loathing to love. They are easy to picture, wield sympathy and provide disparate visuals. The journey is fraught with tension, hardship, and sacrifice and manages to alternately focus on many of the support characters.
Unfortunately, it is also strongly stereotypical and runs on melodrama. Goodness, it hardly slows—the melodrama yanking the reader in different directions, sparking like firecrackers, perhaps to miss obvious flaws in the writing.
I didn’t take the time to dissect every nuance, glean out whether or not that was truly Mexican Spanish, or whether or not a certain character might have done or said something that way. I might even decry that a white woman could rake in those kinds of bucks on such a sensitive topic, but I did find the narrative engaging and compelling. Perhaps it didn’t reflect the people or factual situation correctly but it did provide a face to the individuals and the desperation that would drive a human being that strongly.
And when I read of another truck full of migrants found in the deadly heat of summer, it bestowed a visage on real people. I thought the narrator did an exceptional job and I hung on every word. You’ll have to make up your own mind about this one. Did you read it? Listen to it? What was your reaction?
Genre: Latino American Literature, Hispanic American Literature & Fiction, Psychological Fiction
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Listening Length: 16 hrs 43 mins
Narrator: Yareli Arizmendi
Publication Date: January 21,2020
Source: Local Library (Audiobook Selections)
Title Link: American Dirt [Amazon]
Rosepoint Publishing: Four stars
The Author: Jeanine Cummins is the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling novel, AMERICAN DIRT, which was an Oprah Book Club and a Barnes & Noble Book Club selection, has been translated into 34 languages, and has sold more than 2 million copies worldwide. She is also the author of the novels THE OUTSIDE BOY and THE CROOKED BRANCH, and the true crime memoir, A RIP IN HEAVEN. She lives in New York with her husband and two children.
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