Oprah gave it her coveted seal of approval, and Stephen King wrote a blurb for it. 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. “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. 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.” The novel was acquired by Flatiron Books in 2018 in a reported seven-figure deal and has been talked about in the publishing world ever since. 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.) You’ve run out of free articles. I also found the book’s very public aspirations interesting. “This has opened my eyes in ways that only books can do,” said Oprah, a popular American television personality. 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. This is modern Acapulco, a former holiday town now firmly in the grip of the drug cartels. “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. Portfolios. And you'll never see this message again. About a week and a half ago American Dirt was still generating the kind of press notices most novelists could only dream of. It feels like years have gone by since Jeanine Cummins’s novel American Dirt was unleashed onto the book world. 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. “American Dirt” has dramatized ongoing issues of diversity in publishing that mirror criticisms of Hollywood. Print as You Go. “American Dirt” has dramatized ongoing issues of diversity in publishing that mirror criticisms of Hollywood. They are escaping poverty, not financially stable family lives. Travel Books . Comments ( 0 ) 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. At least for now, not many in Mexico seem to really care that a woman named Jeanine Cummins has dared to write about us. What will your book be? The possibility, for example, that Cummins’ book might, as advertised, offer an antidote to some severe afflictions in American popular culture: a chronically erroneous representation, rooted in ignorance and indifference, of Mexico, and the deluge of stereotypes about both the country and its immigrants that American Dirt promised to counter with complex, accurately developed characters. American Dirt will fade into obscurity or it will go down as a very messed up bestseller. The next thing he knows he is cowering in the shower with his mother Lydia; below them, assassins systematically slaughter his whole family. 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.” … Gangster Javier is a debonair, book-loving Latin lover. 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. Over the past decade I have interviewed hundreds of immigrant women for Univision and other media outlets. This and over 450 more book reviews can be found on his website Pile By the Bed. That cannot happen with characters whom immigrants themselves could never relate to. She was talking about American Dirt, the first blockbuster novel of 2020 and her latest pick for her book club. 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. Up until the tragedy, she has led a peaceful life, with a happy and stable marriage. All rights reserved. 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. A (mediocre) poet and a romantic, Cummins’ drug lord is sophisticated to the point of parody. The tension is always high and both the reader and the characters themselves are constantly being reminded that the chance of surviving the journey is incredibly low. The major audiences for American Dirt and Ten Thousand Sorrows are white women who are reading about brutalities (a child being crushed by a … In the center of the page is a blurb from author Don Winslow. Read 22,020 reviews from the world's largest community for readers. She knows Acapulco inside and out and could probably pinpoint the location of El Rollo Aquatic Park. Eight-year-old Luca is going to the toilet when a bullet fired from downstairs narrowly misses him. “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. To understand that for many living in parts of the world riven by violence, leaving is the only answer and the dream of some form of sanctuary is a powerful one, no matter how illusory the reality might be. It doesn't matter now. Let’s see Don Winslow stick a blurb on that. Knowing that the police will do little to help, and that many will already be in the pocket of those who commissioned the killings, Lydia has no choice but to take Luca, grab what she can and run, knowing that it may be impossible to escape the long arm of the Mexican cartels. American Dirt effectively uses thriller tropes and some melodramatic story beats to force readers to focus on the human dimension of this global movement. The next thing he knows he is cowering in the shower with his mother Lydia; below them, assassins systematically slaughter his whole family. Migration, forced and otherwise, is a live issue not only in the Americas but in many other parts of the world. Its most profound achievement, though, is something I never could’ve been told… It has received glowing praise … 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. He is not an accurate representation of Mexico’s criminals. 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. While Jeanine Cummins’ novel American Dirt continues to stir controversy, Sandra Cisneros has reaffirmed her support for the book. Romance Writers of America, a … It has been an enlightening experience. I honestly don’t care who does it. Through their odyssey, Lydia finds that the wave of refugees is much like herself. Business Books. Cummins might have created an interesting drug lord, but Javier is pure fiction. that could be worthy of a great novel, much less a definitive one. Yes, there are surely immigrant women like Lydia Quixano Pérez, but Lydia Quixano Pérez is far from a worthy emblem of immigrant women. The novel is also a perfectly adequate and suspenseful romance thriller. Lydia is solidly middle class. 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. “American Dirt” was the third novel picked by Winfrey since she began a partnership with Apple last year. By Robert Goodman 10 months ago . But he is certainly not emblematic. At the end of 2019, newsrooms across the United States were sent a book for review: American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins. I have disagreed with many of the attempts to question her right to fictionalize Mexico’s predicament simply because she long identified as white. I have done so in Mexico and the United States; in shelters, places of worship, and on random corners across California. He playfully quotes Gabriel García Márquez and seems to enjoy Sebastian Barry, to Lydia’s infinite delight. 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. Again: This doesn’t mean that Javier is not an amusing and often terrifying character. 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. Or Nemesio Oseguera, “El Mencho,” who runs the CJNG cartel, Mexico’s most dangerous and violent criminal organization. It is notable that much of the initial criticism of American Dirt came from elsewhere and also that Cummins herself is a New Yorker. What Cummins does not do, though, is offer a depiction of immigrants (or drug lords, for that matter—who will speak for them?) Lydia and Luca join up with two Honduran sisters – Soledad and Rebeca – who are also fleeing trauma and violence. “I did not breathe for the whole first chapter,” Blue Willow owner Valerie Koehler told us ahead of the book launch. In reality, it’s been nine days. They are often fleeing drunk, abusive, or absent husbands, not an awkward love triangle with a smitten narco dandy. To put themselves in the shoes of those who are forced to leave their homes to seek a better, safer life. 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. Robert Goodman is a book reviewer, former Ned Kelly Awards judge and institutionalised public servant based in Sydney. They share Lydia’s devotion to their children, but not much else. (Under the Volcano is just one of many great ones.) Join Slate Plus to continue reading, and you’ll get unlimited access to all our work—and support Slate’s independent journalism. Cummins has captured the endearing importance of maternal figures in Hispanic life, and that is no small feat. American Dirt first landed on the desks of editors in the spring of 2018. The Great American Novel and the great novel of the Americas about violence, loss, and immigration is still waiting to be written. There has been a fair amount of controversy following the release of this book. Never less than tense, and completely compulsive, Cummins manages to both make her point and deliver an effective piece of fiction. American Dirt (Jeanine Cummins) – book review, Sign up for The What's On Weekly - enter email below, Leave the World Behind (Rumaan Alam) – book review, The Subjects (Sarah Hopkins) – book review, Small Mercies (Richard Anderson) – book review. American Dirt opens with a scene that is as shocking as it is gripping. 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. PREVIEW: ‘American Dirt’ is about Mexicans by an author who isn’t. Cummins’s stated aim in American Dirt is to put a human face on the tide of refugees seeking sanctuary in the United States. 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. (Selected for) Oprah's Book Club, Amazon.com Best Books of the Year, Boston Globe Best Books of the Year Given the title, I thought it was a book about agriculture. In the center of the page is a blurb from author Don Winslow. By joining Slate Plus you support our work and get exclusive content. The problem is, American Dirt is none of those things. She knows her conchas, her fútbol, and her abuela. So while American Dirt may not be the literary fiction breakout that some are touting, it is an important work. Lydia Quixano Perez runs a bookstore in the Mexican City of Acapulco until one violent day changes everything. (How did so many people seemingly blurb/share this book without supposedly knowing what it was about?) Her antagonist is even less convincing. She is a well-educated and successful owner of a bookshop in Acapulco. If she wants to write about Mexico, so be it—Mexico and the Mexican immigrant experience are terrific subjects for a novel that deserves many outstanding books, perhaps even a definitive one that could surely be written from the United States by an American writer. You can cancel anytime. Eight-year-old Luca is going to the toilet when a bullet fired from downstairs narrowly misses him. She does this primarily through Lydia, who is a middle-class bookshop owner until her life is completely upended. First, I thought Cummins had been treated unfairly. Food & Cookbooks. Following this breathless opening, Cummins delivers a page-turning thriller where there is literally danger around every corner for her main characters. Children's Books. If you value our work, please disable your ad blocker. 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 … One editor who had advocated for her imprint to acquire the manuscript recalled reading the … According to the blurb, Cummins’ book has stirred up a lot of controversy. “ 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. 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. The book has a white jacket cover featuring blue birds, reminiscent of traditional Mexican Talavera tiles surrounded by barbed wire. New York seems a place that is often unwilling to examine its deep and ironic parochialism, and this is one of the results. They do not run bookshops with a hidden section of favorite authors, but work in the fields, often struggling to feed their families. American Dirt’s backlash is the latest in a slew of contentious controversies and blunders in the publishing industry. The difference, I would say, is love. 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. “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. Rather, they resemble people like Juan Ulises Laredo, known as “the Virus,” leader of one of the dominant gangs in the region that Cummins depicts. Is that OK? American Dirt opens with a scene that is as shocking as it is gripping. Neither one is even remotely representative of immigrant mothers nor Mexican criminals. Even while on the run, Lydia occasionally has time to reflect that before her life went to hell she did not think much about the plight of those other Central Americans passing through Mexico. 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. Sell one copy at a time and let Blurb fulfill the orders or place a large order and sell in-person. American Dirt book. None of these guys could have been Bill Gates, in this or any other life. 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 (Jeanine Cummins) – book review . Family Photo Books. All contents © 2021 The Slate Group LLC. Slate relies on advertising to support our journalism. 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. 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. Slate is published by The Slate Group, a Graham Holdings Company. 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. Whether el norte, the United States, is actually the sanctuary they need is never really questioned by these refugees. Cummins clearly did her research on Mexico minutiae. 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. She has dutifully taken notes and sprinkles the plot with the required quota of palabras en español, for authenticity’s sake. Mexican drug lords are not aspiring poets who read Irish fiction or enjoy delicate French cocoa bites. 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 … American Dirt opens with a scene that is as shocking as it is gripping. 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. Photography. Parul Sehgal has pointed … For most, the journey is more about what they are running from rather than what they are running to. 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 … And that makes all the difference. 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