A Book Review by Gill Sherry
Although aware of the plight of refugees, my knowledge is restricted to what I read in the papers or see on the television: snapshots of misery in filthy camps, overcrowded boats or ill-equipped, foreign hospitals. I was keen, therefore, to read Jeanine Cummings’ novel, American Dirt.
It tells the story of a mother and son fleeing their home country in fear for their lives and attempting to cross the US-Mexico border. Not only is it politically relevant, it aids the understanding of the danger, hardship and prejudice faced by those forced to abandon their homes to begin a life-changing journey of desperation.
Having witnessed the murder of sixteen members of her family in a revenge massacre, Lydia escapes Acapulco with eight-year-old Luca and embarks on a perilous journey to the US. It’s a harrowing read, the author’s vivid descriptions bringing the characters to life and, in doing so, drawing the reader in. I felt as though I was sitting beside Lydia on the roof of ‘la bestia’ (the northern bound train known as ‘the beast’). I felt the pain of Luca’s blister as he walked the endless Sonoran Desert. I felt their joint relief as they caught their first glimpse of US soil, believing they’d finally escaped the long arm of the cartel and were, finally, free from danger.
If it’s only a better life you seek, seek it elsewhere…This path is only for people who have no choice, no other option, only violence and misery behind you. And your journey will grow even more treacherous from here. Everything is working against you.
This quote sums up their predicament, highlighting the impossible position Lydia and Luca find themselves in. The reader’s experience is enhanced by the individual stories of their fellow migrants, each one entirely shocking but completely believable. I was rooting for them all, urging them on through each setback and over every obstacle.
Cummings has researched her subject well (she admits to five years’ worth) and examines the survival instinct of those forced to endure untold hardship whilst, at the same time, considering culture and humanity. American Dirt may only shine the spotlight on one fictional family but it raises awareness of refugees worldwide.
It’s a gripping read designed to shock. It’s as powerful as it is beautiful. The author has managed to capture the horror of an ongoing, global problem with strong characters, provocative prose and in-depth knowledge of her subject.< Back