American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

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 lover 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 ship 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 readers utterly changed. It is a literary achievement filled with poignancy, drama, and humanity on every page. It is one of the most important books for our times.

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.

So, clearly, American Dirt is well-praised. There is part of me that doesn’t want to bite into the heralding and singing but it really is an amazing book. I have never read a story like it before and I’m sure there are discrepancies in its tale but, if nothing else, it gives a little credence to the struggles of an entire group of people that most of us will never know or talk to in our lifetime.

Lydia’s story involves so much more than her and her son. There is a well-constructed cast of characters that spur her journey along and a lot of tears are shed reading about them. Her and Luca’s journey is hard to say the least. There’s a lot of violence, fear, and manipulation that dehumanizes our protagonists but, without knowing how this journey is for the real people who have made it, I think Cummins has done an amazing job telling a story that is hard to tell.

It isn’t really a book for immigrants. Cummins makes clear that her motivations for writing American Dirt had to do with bringing some humanity back to the “brown mass” Americans hear about on a near daily basis. Whether or not she does that successfully is up to each reader. For me, she did succeed.

Photo and synopsis from Amazon

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