As a white woman, born and raised in the wealth and security of Canada, I have never known desperation.
American Dirt, by Jeanine Cummins, is raw, unflinching desperation writ large. Saving it from being utterly exhausting and leaving the reader filled with despair, however, is the constant current of hopefulness that runs through the story like an electric wire.
The story is told from the perspective of Lydia Perez, a 32-year-old Mexican woman, who recounts her gruelling escape from her home in Acapulco with her bright and delightful 8-year-old son, Luca.
Lydia is an educated, cultured woman who runs a bookstore in the city. She is happily married to a journalist, the love of her life, and enjoys a robust, comfortable, and fulfilling life. Very much her own person, Lydia strikes up a platonic friendship with a regular customer and they soon form a deep connection, sharing their love of literature and in time, striking an envious emotional resonance.
This was an utterly fascinating aspect of the story, so when unbearable, violent tragedy strikes, it’s a further kick in the gut to understand its origin. Lydia and her young son, must leave Mexico at once.
Their journey is a thrilling, but terrifying, attempt to reach el norte. Their transformation into migrants is worlds away from their comfortable middle class existence but Lydia’s resilience and determination in the face of everything that is bleak and gruesome is truly riveting.
Along the way, they join countless others with the same dream of making their way into the United States, running from every kind of human tragedy. Gritty, sensitive and utterly captivating, her account of this dangerous, violent crossing as illegal migrants is brilliantly written.
I believe this book is a literary triumph filled with poignancy, drama, and humanity on every page. It explores the human heart, what we are willing to sacrifice to protect those we love, and how we can achieve the unthinkable with hope and love.
As it was written by a white American, this book generated a lot of controversy with claims of racial appropriation. After reading it, I came to a different conclusion: perhaps it doesn’t matter who tells these stories, so long as their voices are heard.
Highly recommended. Please let me know your thoughts if you’ve read it. Would love to hear from you.
Until next time, happy reading!