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American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

Writing.ie | Book Reviews | General Fiction

By Swirl and Thread

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Yesterday Lydia had a bookshop
Yesterday Lydia was married to a journalist
Yesterday she was with everyone she loved most in the world
Today, her eight-year-old son Luca is all she has left.
For him, she will carry a machete strapped to her leg.
For him, she will leap onto the roof of a high speed train.
For him, she will find the strength to keep running.

American Dirt is possibly one of THE MOST relevant and powerful books you will EVER read. Published with Tinder Press, it is described as ‘vivid, visceral, utterly compelling…a work of fiction inspired by a truth that demands urgently to be told. One unique, personal, unforgettable story to honour the hundreds of stories we may never get to hear’.

Our world today is changing beyond recognition. Life moves at a frenetic pace and it is a real challenge to keep up with the ongoing trauma and destruction happening on a daily basis across the globe. In American Dirt Jeanine Cummins highlights, with an uncanny and shocking authenticity, the plight of a migrating people. We all see this movement of humanity on our screens, across social media. We see the endless images of the sorrow, the pain and the fear of these people but many of us never stop and wonder why? Why is there such a shift in our society? Why are people leaving their homes, their families in such large numbers? What are they running from?

American Dirt highlights the plight of Lydia Quixano Perez and her eight-year-old son Luca as they are forced to leave all that they are familiar with in order to live, to survive.

Lydia lived in relative comfort in Acapulco. Her passion for books led her to owning a bookstore. Her husband Sebastián was a journalist and her son Luca, now eight, attended school. At the quinceañera celebrations for Lydia’s niece, the family had gathered for a BBQ. It was a happy get-together, a party. But sicario gunmen of the Los Jardineros cartel opened fire on this innocent group, killing sixteen members of the one family. Lydia and Luca were lucky. They were hidden, tucked away, escaping death but Lydia was not supposed to live. Lydia and Luca were supposed to die.

Immediately Lydia is aware of who but she cannot understand the why. Lydia knows she has no time to grieve, to consider the absolute horror and carnage before her so she grabs Luca and embarks on the most terrifying and distressing journey, one that sees them face the most horrifying of situations, one that will change Lydia’s understanding of what it means to be a migrante.

“Migrants are people. They are people, they are people, they are people. It’s so easy to politicize and dehumanize the tragedy of compulsory migration – do we call them undocumented, alien, immigrant, illegal, criminal? I’d like to start by calling them human”
– Jeanine Cummins

Lydia needs a route out of Mexico, a path that will take her across the border to el norte, to the United States of America. Lydia knows their journey is fraught with danger and she also knows that the only hope they have is by travelling by train on the rooftop of La Bestia, a network of freight trains that cross Mexico heading north toward the US border.

‘The possible manners of death available on La Bestia are all gruesome: You can be crushed between two moving cars when the train rounds a bend. You can fall asleep, roll off the edge, get sucked beneath the wheels, have your legs sliced off…..And finally, there’s the ubiquity of ordinary human violence: you can die by beating or stabbing or shooting. Robbery is a foregone conclusion. Mass abduction for ransom are commonplace. Often, kidnappers torture their victims to help persuade their families to pay.’

Lydia and Luca embark on this passage facing into the unknown in the hope of escaping the reach of Los Jardineros. They meet up with many others who are undertaking this horrendous journey but it is with two sisters that Lydia and Luca feel an immediate connection. Soledad and Rebeca are young teenagers escaping their own horror story in Honduras. The bond between these two sisters is very strong. Their story is disturbing. The portrayal of the events leading up to their journey is shocking, monstrous and very upsetting.

All the migrante on board La Bestia have one goal in common and that is to reach el norte with the hope of a better life, a future away from the terror that is forever present in their lives.

Lydia and Luca’s journey is littered with very threatening and extremely distressing events yet they also experience humanity at it’s best. Along the way they stay at Casas de Migrante, places of refuge and safety for migrants, places where a roof and a door are provided, places where good folk exist, people willing to offer comfort and sustenance to those in need. They also encounter ordinary people who offer water, hiding places, a kind word. It is these moments that sustain Lydia and keep her moving forward toward her goal. Lydia is a mother who will do anything to protect her son, the last surviving member of her family. She will live. She will make a new life away from the cartels and the fear. She will succeed.

American Dirt is an epic read. It is shocking, incomprehensible, riveting. It is a harrowing, affecting and very credible tale of the plight of a people driven from their homes.

“Every migrant has an individual personal story, and I have tried to write an undeniably intimate one for the reader to inhabit. I wanted to make it impossible for readers to NOT empathize with these people and their circumstances, to force readers to consider what their life choices might look like if they lived in a place that began to collapse around them.”
-Jeanine Cummins

American Dirt is an extremely powerful and extremely compelling tale. It is a book for our time with such an extraordinary insight into the lives of a community that many of us know so little about. A must read for all, American Dirt is a very important book, one that will remain with all readers for a long time after turning that final page.

Highly recommended!

(c) Swirl and Thread

Order your copy online here.

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