American Dirt is quite different from my usual kind of reads but I was blown away by its powerful message. It is the story of a Mexican bookshop owner called Lydia who was married to a journalist, Sebastian. When Sebastian writes an expose of a powerful local drugs cartel, exposing the leader of the group, revenge is swift and brutal. Lydia had known the leader of the cartel as a friend before realising who he was and while she believed him to be an educated, caring man, she knows for sure that she and her small son Luca have to get out of Mexico as quickly as possible. What follows is the harrowing story of their escape to the United States.
What Lydia and Luca go through is unimaginable. It doesn’t bear thinking about, losing practically your entire family in such a deliberate, targeted violent attack. And then to know that you and your small son are still potentially at risk: no wonder she flees. I think that Lydia is such an identifiable character who really makes the reader put themselves in her place and begin to consider what on earth they would do in her situation. It is practically impossible to imagine, but that desire to protect her son, all she has left, is something which I think most people will relate to.
And because you can relate to Lydia’s situation, this book really puts a human face to the word refugee. Before she had to leave, Lydia supported refugee charities but never thought that she would be one. They were always ‘other people’ and I think that’s how most of us view refugees: ‘other people’, this kind of thing couldn’t happen to us. I recognise that I am so fortunate to live in a safe part of the world. While we see refugee camps on TV and naturally feel compassion, being forced to leave your home is definitely something which happens to ‘other people’. This book shows what happens when it’s not other people, when it’s you all of a sudden.
I tend to veer away from discussing politics in a public forum and know that immigration is a complicated issue. But American Dirt shows that at the heart of the issue are people, real people and that we should treat refugees with compassion. Through Lydia, and some of the other characters, we see desperation, fierce protective love. Jeanine Cummins shows that all most people want is the best for those we love, and a safe place to live.
Lydia and Luca’s journey is terrifying, the writing is compelling and the thought that this is reality for people in various parts of the world today, is horrifying. It’s a tense, moving and powerful read. American Dirt an important book which is fully deserving of all the praise you will undoubtedly see heaped upon it this year.
My grateful thanks to the publishers for sending me a review copy of this book. American Dirt is published today by Tinder Press. You will find buying links for various book retailers on the Tinder Press website here: American Dirt
From the back of the book
FEAR KEEPS THEM RUNNING. HOPE KEEPS THEM ALIVE.
Vivid, visceral, utterly compelling, AMERICAN DIRT is the first novel to explore the experience of attempting to illegally cross the US-Mexico border. Described as ‘a life-affirming triumph’ (Independent) and ‘essential reading’ (Tracy Chevalier), it is a story that will leave you utterly changed.
Yesterday, Lydia had a bookshop.
Yesterday, Lydia was married to a journalist.
Yesterday, she was with everyone she loved most in the world.
Today, her eight-year-old son Luca is all she has left.
For him, she will carry a machete strapped to her leg.
For him, she will leap onto the roof of a high speed train.
For him, she will find the strength to keep running.