American Dirt (Oprah's Book Club)
Registered by MmeClinton of South Berwick, Maine USA on 11/18/2020
3 journalers for this copy...
Jeanine Cummins' novel American Dirt was the choice for the Music Hall book group for October (well, it was originally for last spring, but the pandemic changed up everybody's schedules!)... I had been forewarned that this novel had met with very severe criticism from some groups who felt that an non-latinx writer could not and perhaps even should not attempt to write about the experiences of people with whom she had no authentic relation. I am very pleased that our discussion last night was divided into two parts... first, the book as a novel, and second, addressing the negative criticism. Although there were only about 15 of us, all of us very much liked this novel. I thought it was very well researched (read the acknowledgements at the end for an understanding of how much work Cummins put in, how many people (many of them latinx) worked with her, how she did her best to present authentic details. It was also very well put together, to pull the reader into a universe most likely unknown, a page-turner where one's heart is wrenched and horrified in equal measure. Our principal characters are Lydia, a middle-class bookstore owner in Acapulco in the days when a new cartel had moved in and changed the entire reality of this once calm beautiful Mexican city, and her 8 year-old son Luca, who are the only survivors of a cartel-ordered massacre of 14 members of her family. The book details her instant understanding that they were the intended targets, and they must run. They become migrants. Sure, there are coincidences which are what create much of the tension in this fictional rendering. Lydia had unknowingly befriended Javier, the head of this cartel, without knowing who he was outside her bookstore. A host of characters people the story in believable ways, both good and bad. As a vehicle to let North American readers understand even the basics of what drives Central Americans to risk death and robbery and rape and other horrors for the chance to reach the USA, even when that is no guarantee of a calm future, the novel is remarkable. Then we discussed the controversy. Note that none of us was Latinx or Black. Nonetheless, we were all appalled by the almost personal attacks on the author, when the anger should really be directed at the publishing houses who have not yet begun a serious effort to encourage Latinx writings. Two people watched the interviews Oprah Winfrey held with both Cummins and the head of a group attacking her (you have to pay for that, so I am glad they shared); they felt that Cummins was given zero credit for creating a heart-pulsing novel which puts the migrant experience smack in the middle of your consciousness, instead focusing intensely and rather viciously on the use of a couple of phrases with which they took great offense. The author apologized to the point of tears. Shouldn't a book raise healthy discussions and open eyes? Cummins was forced to cancel her book tour due to threats. What kind of good comes of this kind of criticism? To denigrate an author's efforts to create a beautifully composed story which draws attention to huge inequities and iniquities beyond the imaginative scope of most of us is short-sighted. I have learned so much about the world, about humanity, about history... much of it written by people who hadn't literally experienced what they were writing about. I would welcome the reading of a novel written from the heart of experience, but I will not refuse to explore a novel written from the heart.
I’ve read very positive reviews about this. Thanks for sending it!
Very interesting and enlightening book. The story and characters are fictional but based on some of the real challenges that face migrants. Living so close to the border of Mexico, about 40 miles, this had local relevance for me.
This is on pinklady60’s wishlist so it’s now traveling to her in another part of San Diego county.
Stringofpearls saw this on my wishlist and offered it to me as an RABCK. I have heard so much about this book, including the controversy surrounding it, and have a couple of friends that are currently reading it, so I am excited to now have it available to read.
Thanks you so much, stringofpearls!
Thanks you so much, stringofpearls!