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Poignant book about the migrant experience!

American Dirt - Jeanine Cummins

American Dirt, Jeanine Cummins, author; Yareli Arizmendi, narrator Lydia Perez operates her own bookstore in Acapulco, Mexico. Her husband is an investigative journalist. The family has a good life. Lydia becomes friendly with a book store customer, who unbeknownst to her, at first, is the head of a violent and vicious cartel. He turns out to be the very same person her husband is now investigating. Lydia seems naïve, believing that Javier, who treasures her friendship, wouldn’t harm her family even if her husband exposed his criminal behavior. After all, with her, he is nothing but a soft spoken, educated gentleman with whom she shares tea and conversation. Of course, this is ridiculous and most readers will recognize this weakness in the plot. A man who is so evil would not allow anyone to betray him without retaliating. It would show weakness. Thus, when Sebastian’s expose is published, it leads to catastrophic events; Lydia finds herself on the run with her son Luca. The book goes into great detail about the trials and tribulations of her escape. She wants to get to an uncle in Colorado. As they run, they encounter several others escaping for one reason or another, but mostly from a terrible lifestyle. The reader meets two teenage girls from Honduras, Soledad and Rebeca. Soledad has been repeatedly raped by human traffickers. These young men and other cartel members, everywhere, are powerful and take advantage of their innocent victims. They extract bribes, sex and force those they control to do as they say on penalty of torture and death. Soledad wants to save her younger sister from the same fate, thus, when she realizes the boy who is abusing her, has also discovered her sister, she packs up and leaves with her, for El Norte, the USA, the American Dirt! This leads to disastrous consequences for her family. She has no idea what awaits them on their route to ultimate safety, but she is willing to risk all to escape. They try not to trust any strangers they meet on their journey, since they might have connections to the heads of cartels or they might be thieves, but still they are robbed and abused. There is danger everywhere. In the end, after riding on the tops of trains, marching for miles in all kinds of heat and wet, they enlist the aid of a rare, reputable Coyote. There are many interesting characters developed in the book. Beto, a ten year old asthmatic, Lorenzo, a cartel member, the Coyote who cares about those he is leading to the USA, but who is also cold-hearted about it and others. There is constant danger everywhere. As the reader learns more and more about them, the plight of the migrant becomes palpable. Along the way they are all betrayed by police and others they encounter. Greed drives many of the people they meet. Everyone is either looking to take advantage of the migrants, or is running from, or toward, something in America, and those very same migrants are willing to risk their very lives to get there. I found the book to be very engaging. It is very well organized and easy to read, plus it is obvious that a great deal of research went into its planning. The audio narrator read it well, if perhaps a bit too slowly. Still, the interpretation of events and her portrayal of the various characters seemed spot-on so the characters were not often confused with one another. The story flowed smoothly as it showed examples of the horrific migrant experience, some running from danger, some running toward financial independence. Each has hope for a better life. The author has painted a picture that feels very authentic. There were some flaws in the book like cell service in the desert when I have trouble getting it in my community! Also, the idea of undocumented vs illegal aliens is whitewashed in favor of the immigrant. The Lorenzos of the world are trying just as hard to get into America as the Lydias. The Lorenzos are cartel members, gang members, violent members of their own societies who are threats to Americans. The Lydias are running from extreme danger, running for their very lives and only want a better life. They don’t have the liberty to go through the process; they will be killed waiting. They deserve the asylum the USA offers. The book is filled with the terror of the migrant experience as they attempt to cross countries and landscapes to illegally enter the United States. The sad thing is that the ones in real danger are mixed in with the ones who are just coming for work, who need to get in line. If they would do it legally, the ones who are in real danger would not have the issues they do. Their entrance into America would be easier. The book has its flaws, however, objecting to its publication because the author is not Latino, seems ludicrous. In America, one would hope that authors would be free to write about anything they wish. One would hope that readers and protesters understand these are novels they are objecting to…, they are fiction, not fact. Authors write for diverse audiences and come from diverse backgrounds. The cancellation of the book tours because of death threats is probably going to spur the sale of her book, anyway, but it is ill advised to allow the protestors to cause such havoc. The author comes from a multiracial family, she researched the book for four years before she published it, she married someone who came to the country undocumented, and so she seems very credible in her depiction of life for the migrants. Even though it is fiction, it is based on some actual events, as well. To criticize her for cultural appropriation or mischaracterization of the situation is ludicrous and unworthy of comment. It is a novel, and is not meant to be a memoir!