Book Review : American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

It seems that this book is popping up on many, many ‘One to Watch’ lists this year…and with good reason.

Back in the long hot summer of uninterrupted blogging and reading that was August 2019, I requested a review copy of American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins after seeing a growing buzz on Twitter.

The lovely people at Tinder Press were kind enough to grant my wish and the book has winked at me from the shelf for quite a while.

However, just for once I have made a conscious decision to delay my reading. This was based on the fact that everyone I have spoken to who has read this book has been immediately blown away by it. I quickly picked up the vibe that it was a book I would want to review and probably struggle to contain my enthusiasm for. So I have shown uncharacteristic reading restraint and waited.

And I am so glad I did.

There is no doubt in my mind that this book is going to be huge. It is current, original and filled with compassion and grace. Just what the world needs at the beginning of a new decade which it would appear is getting off to a rather shaky start.

American Dirt is the story of Lydia Quixano Perez and her 8 year old son Luca. A middle class woman, running a book shop in Acapulco, Lydia is married to Sebastian, a talented journalist who likes to push the boundaries. Writing about the drug cartels which infiltrating the city means that Sebastian is, at the very least, a person of interest.

The novel opens with Lydia’s normality being ripped apart by unimaginable tragedy. In the blink of an eye she and Luca are fugitives and their own lives in danger. At risk within their own country their only choice is to flee, to run north to the US border, trying to reach el norte.

Taking cold hard cash and little more the clothes they stand up in, Lydia has to take risks she has never imagined she could. Gone is the life of safety harnesses in cars and worrying about school and vitamins; she is now sleeping with a machete strapped to her thigh and asking her 8 yyear old to jump on to moving trains, la bestia.

Written largely in the present but interspersed with flashbacks to Lydia’s previous and comfortable life, we become starkly aware of the contrasts and contradictions of Mexico. The rule of the drug cartels is wide reaching and it is clear that is not only Sebastian’s actions that have put the family in danger.

This is far far more than a fugitive story. Within these pages you will find a tender portrayal of grief and loss. Through the characters of Lydia and Luca we see how quickly a life can be torn apart and the lengths people will go to survive.

Their journey brings them into contact with many other migrants, all with individual tales to tell. All moving forwards motivated by desperation, the desire for a better life but overwhelmingly the very human instinct for survival.

There are no cliches in this book. There is just humanity in all it’s heart breaking forms. Not all migrants are saints, but they are all people and deserve to be treated as such whatever their ‘immigration status.’

This is a book that will terrify and move you in equal parts. There is nothing in this life that we take for granted more than freedom. American Dirt might just make you stop, think and even appreciate the more important things in life.

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins is published on 21st January 2020 by Tinder press. You can preorder here


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