A Heartfelt Portrayal of the Migrant Experience: American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

20 Jan

The harrowing and perilous migrant experience is vividly portrayed in Jeanine Cummins’ bestselling novel American Dirt, an Oprah’s Book Club pick. Understandably, it’s being hailed as a new American classic and critics are comparing it to Steinbeck’s powerful Grapes of Wrath. It has a gritty and earthy feel, as the threatening elements of nature play a pivotal role, and the reader is immediately caught up in the poignancy, drama, and humanity of the compelling story and characters.

The protagonist, Lydia Perez, is living a happy middle-class life with her husband, a journalist, and their rambunctious 8-year-old son Luca in Acapulco, Mexico. After her husband publishes a scathing profile of Javier, the jefe of Acapulco’s newest drug cartel, her extended family (including her husband) are viciously murdered during a birthday celebration. Lydia and her precious son, Luca, are the sole survivors and although they are horrified and disoriented, they scramble to take refuge in order to survive. Lydia soon realizes that they must flee Mexico for the safety of the United States otherwise their lives will be forever fraught with danger. So begins their tortuous journey filled with constant threats, colorful, shady characters, and nerve-wracking episodes.

With their savings and scant possessions, their lives are instantly transformed into desperate migrants and they are forced to ride on the exposed rooftops of la bestia-trains that make their way north to the United States, the only place Javier’s dangerous grip doesn’t extend. As they join the countless forlorn Mexican and Central American migrants trying to reach el norte, Lydia soon learns that everyone is running from something. However, what are they running to and what extremes are they willing to risk in order to achieve their dreams and safe refuge?

Each page-turning chapter reveals more and more challenges and pitfalls as Lydia and Luca endure corrupt border patrol officers, ruthless migrants, dangerous drug cartel members, as well as rattlesnakes, coyotes, and nature’s blistering desert sun and unforgiving temperatures. How they persevere and overcome each threat and obstacle gives American Dirt its heart and compels the reader to root for these relentless and shrewd survivors. What will they discover in America and will they ever be able to put the past behind them? To uncover these answers, read Jeanine Cummins’ gripping exploration into the frantic lives of migrants who are willing to sacrifice everything for a glimmer of hope in American Dirt. A timely novel that is heartfelt and seems refreshingly real.

Available as an ebook and digital audiobook from eBCCLS. Also available in both Spanish and English as an ebook and as an English digital audiobook from elibraryNJ

Written by:
Ethan Galvin
Information and Digital Services Librarian

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