American Dirt effectively uses thriller tropes and some melodramatic story beats to force readers to focus on the human dimension of this global movement. And you'll never see this message again. The next thing he knows he is cowering in the shower with his mother Lydia; below them, assassins systematically slaughter his whole family. 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. 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. The next thing he knows he is cowering in the shower with his mother Lydia; below them, assassins systematically slaughter his whole family. “This has opened my eyes in ways that only books can do,” said Oprah, a popular American television personality. American Dirt book. Mexican drug lords are not aspiring poets who read Irish fiction or enjoy delicate French cocoa bites. “ 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. She knows her conchas, her fútbol, and her abuela. Robert Goodman is a book reviewer, former Ned Kelly Awards judge and institutionalised public servant based in Sydney. Following this breathless opening, Cummins delivers a page-turning thriller where there is literally danger around every corner for her main characters. American Dirt opens with a scene that is as shocking as it is gripping. 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. By Robert Goodman 10 months ago . American Dirt first landed on the desks of editors in the spring of 2018. Sell one copy at a time and let Blurb fulfill the orders or place a large order and sell in-person. Whether el norte, the United States, is actually the sanctuary they need is never really questioned by these refugees. They do not run bookshops with a hidden section of favorite authors, but work in the fields, often struggling to feed their families. In both literature and journalism, examples abound of brilliant authors who have illuminated countries and themes that were, initially, outside their familiar milieu. “American Dirt” was the third novel picked by Winfrey since she began a partnership with Apple last year. “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. The book has a white jacket cover featuring blue birds, reminiscent of traditional Mexican Talavera tiles surrounded by barbed wire. 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 … It has received glowing praise … Parul Sehgal has pointed … New York seems a place that is often unwilling to examine its deep and ironic parochialism, and this is one of the results. 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. “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. If you value our work, please disable your ad blocker. I have done so in Mexico and the United States; in shelters, places of worship, and on random corners across California. She was talking about American Dirt, the first blockbuster novel of 2020 and her latest pick for her book club. You’ve run out of free articles. 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. A (mediocre) poet and a romantic, Cummins’ drug lord is sophisticated to the point of parody. 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. At least for now, not many in Mexico seem to really care that a woman named Jeanine Cummins has dared to write about us. And that makes all the difference. Lydia is solidly middle class. Eight-year-old Luca is going to the toilet when a bullet fired from downstairs narrowly misses him. American Dirt will fade into obscurity or it will go down as a very messed up bestseller. 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. They are often fleeing drunk, abusive, or absent husbands, not an awkward love triangle with a smitten narco dandy. The Great American Novel and the great novel of the Americas about violence, loss, and immigration is still waiting to be written. I honestly don’t care who does it. Up until the tragedy, she has led a peaceful life, with a happy and stable marriage. What will your book be? Slate relies on advertising to support our journalism. 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. 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. Children's Books. I have disagreed with many of the attempts to question her right to fictionalize Mexico’s predicament simply because she long identified as white. She knows Acapulco inside and out and could probably pinpoint the location of El Rollo Aquatic Park. Travel Books . What Cummins does not do, though, is offer a depiction of immigrants (or drug lords, for that matter—who will speak for them?) “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. I also found the book’s very public aspirations interesting. They are escaping poverty, not financially stable family lives. 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. “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. She has dutifully taken notes and sprinkles the plot with the required quota of palabras en español, for authenticity’s sake. It feels like years have gone by since Jeanine Cummins’s novel American Dirt was unleashed onto the book world. 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. Food & Cookbooks. Again: This doesn’t mean that Javier is not an amusing and often terrifying character. Gangster Javier is a debonair, book-loving Latin lover. Through their odyssey, Lydia finds that the wave of refugees is much like herself. 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.” American Dirt’s backlash is the latest in a slew of contentious controversies and blunders in the publishing industry. Lydia Quixano Perez runs a bookstore in the Mexican City of Acapulco until one violent day changes everything. 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.) He is. Cummins has captured the endearing importance of maternal figures in Hispanic life, and that is no small feat. Let’s see Don Winslow stick a blurb on that. But he is certainly not emblematic. Given the title, I thought it was a book about agriculture. Photography. Its most profound achievement, though, is something I never could’ve been told… 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. Yes, there are surely immigrant women like Lydia Quixano Pérez, but Lydia Quixano Pérez is far from a worthy emblem of immigrant women. 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. 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. None of these guys could have been Bill Gates, in this or any other life. She is a well-educated and successful owner of a bookshop in Acapulco. 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. What matters is that it'll happen again. TUSCON, Arizona — When Oprah Winfrey chose the novel “American Dirt” for her book club, she imagined engaging in an impassioned television dialog about the narrative, which follows a … Comments ( 0 ) 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. 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. 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. All rights reserved. In reality, it’s been nine days. 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 … 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. In the center of the page is a blurb from author Don Winslow. 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. All contents © 2021 The Slate Group LLC. To put themselves in the shoes of those who are forced to leave their homes to seek a better, safer life. 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. 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. He playfully quotes Gabriel García Márquez and seems to enjoy Sebastian Barry, to Lydia’s infinite delight. Cummins might have created an interesting drug lord, but Javier is pure fiction. The book spins around two main characters: Lydia Quixano Pérez, the bereaved mother on the run, and Javier Crespo Fuentes, the drug lord who woos and pursues her. He is not an accurate representation of Mexico’s criminals. Oprah gave it her coveted seal of approval, and Stephen King wrote a blurb for it. American Dirt (Jeanine Cummins) – book review . Read 22,020 reviews from the world's largest community for readers. 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. By joining Slate Plus you support our work and get exclusive content. (How did so many people seemingly blurb/share this book without supposedly knowing what it was about?) The major audiences for American Dirt and Ten Thousand Sorrows are white women who are reading about brutalities (a child being crushed by a … Neither one is even remotely representative of immigrant mothers nor Mexican criminals. According to the blurb, Cummins’ book has stirred up a lot of controversy. Eight-year-old Luca is going to the toilet when a bullet fired from downstairs narrowly misses him. 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. 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. (Selected for) Oprah's Book Club, Amazon.com Best Books of the Year, Boston Globe Best Books of the Year There has been a fair amount of controversy following the release of this book. Join Slate Plus to continue reading, and you’ll get unlimited access to all our work—and support Slate’s independent journalism. Family Photo Books. One editor who had advocated for her imprint to acquire the manuscript recalled reading the … 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. 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