AMERICAN DIRT, 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 love 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 favourite books in her store. And then one day a man enters the shop to browse and comes up to the register with a few books he would like to buy — two of them her favourites. 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. In fact, only Lydia and her 8-year-old son, Luca, escape the gruesome and fatal retribution meted out by the cartel against Lydia’s husband and his family.
Lydia decides to flee Acapulco as she knows the cartel will pursue the surviving members of the family.
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, where they believe Javier’s reach doesn’t reach. 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 is an opus, a tome of weightiness like a blacksmith’s anvil, heavy with prose, deep with symbolic insertions, and colloquial with Mexican phrases. These many features of the writing saturate the canvas of the prose more deeply, more colorfully. Cummins is a master craftsperson!
The book engages the reader from the opening scenes, the horrific slaughter of Lydia’s family. Lydia and Luca flee the city seeking security and safety from the cartel, el jardineros. Every page, a new scene of suspense and danger. Each chapter, a new crisis coloured with the same hues of danger and threat. Lydia and her son are in a never-ending state of fear, and constant threat fearing they are endlessly exposed to the vengeful objectives of the cartel.
Cummins’s hard work in writing the book is evident everywhere. Though she is an American, her extensive research in Mexico as preparation for writing the book is very clearly evident. Her widespread use of Mexican words, Mexican phrases and Spanish expletives add even more authenticity to her descriptive opus.
American Dirt is a never-ending roller coaster of tension and suspense, a constant ride of threats and dangers. Every reader will hold their breath as they turn the next page.
It is worth viewing the endnotes Cummins provides about her book just to see all the help she received in writing the book. Many of the people credited with assisting seem to be friends and acquaintances rather than book writing professionals. This should not detract or diminish the credit and recognition Cummins deserves for writing a masterful book. These assistants likely have put a tremendous amount of spirit and passion into their efforts as amateurs often do. But American Dirt is in no way amateurish.
American Dirt is an excellent read, page after page. Occasionally, unnecessarily prolonged in its clause after clause descriptions, unnecessary repetition to emphasize a point, may be over criticism of the book. The book remains interesting, suspenseful, and brimming with tension throughout.