If I were to make predictions, I’d say that AMERICAN DIRT, by Jeanine Cummins, is the one book that will emerge above the rest in 2020. It blew me away.
Here is the story of what many of the immigrants trying to reach America from Mexico and Central America experience. These are not murderers or rapists. The focus here is on women who are forced to leave the only homes they’ve ever known to escape violence, then must endure all sorts of further violence before finally making it here.
We’re talking a woman who owns a bookstore in Acapulco, whose husband, a journalist, is slaughtered for writing a piece on the drug cartels. We’re talking her 8-year-old son, the only other survivor of the slaughter. We’re talking a pair of teenage sisters from Honduras, whose beauty is their greatest curse. And these are only four of the main characters. Others are woven in with skill and daring.
The details of their journey are gut-wrenching, described in exquisite prose, with deep insight. Of all the news clips I’ve read about the harrowing trips many immigrants are forced to make for the most innocent, honest, and necessary of reasons, AMERICAN DIRT is head-and-shoulders above. It is so powerful, so real, that, at times, I actually had to put it down and read a bit of something lighter, before picking it up again.
Shame on me for being a coward.
More, shame on our current president for playing on every negative stereotype to vilify immigrants and keep them out of this country. Not only are his policies xenophobic, but they lack the compassion for which this country used to be known. If we are ever to make America great again, we need to restore those values now.
AMERICAN DIRT is fiction based on fact. Ms. Cummins is herself of mixed heritage and married to a man who was once illegal. She knows first-hand the utter terror of being pulled over for a minor traffic issue and wondering whether the man she loves — who is educated, employed, buys his own healthcare, and pays taxes — will be suddenly deported.
For those of us who care to understand the plight of immigrants — the threat of violence that makes them leave their homes and then risk their lives again and again to reach safe ground — AMERICAN DIRT is a must-read.