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BY JEANINE CUMMINS
This unputdownable page turner has to be a contender for a “must read” for 2020 and we are only in February! American Dirt is a brilliant, intimate and emotional read about a mother and son on the run.
Without giving too much away, Lydia and her son Luca are unexpectedly forced to flee from their beautiful home and middle-class life in Acapulco, Mexico to escape the clutches of a drug kingpin, La Lechuza, head of the dangerous La Jardinieros drugs cartel. The only way to do this is to try and make the treacherous journey el norte to the USA, that we know thousands make every year.
As Lydia and Luca undertake this remarkable journey, they meet fellow travellers, some good, some bad but all trying to reach the golden land of dreams for a better life, before they are hunted down. You share every drop of their fear, their bravery, their pain and the remarkable bonds they forge with other migrants. It is gripping story of high suspense and pace that you would expect to find in a narco thriller, cleverly told though the empathetic eyes of mother and child. As mothers we bond with Lydia and the question is simple – how far would an ordinary individual go to save her child? And for her son Luca’s preoccupation for studying for his school’s geography bee prize is now superseded with a more pressing 'life or death' challenge - to leap onto a moving freight train and survive.
This is one of the most precarious journeys migrants can make and Jeanine Cummins has researched this topic since 2013. Whilst half a million survive this journey every year, thousands more don’t make it.
At the end of the novel, Cummins explains there are currently around 40,000 people reported missing across Mexico. trying to escape across the US border. This chimes for us in the Western hemisphere as we watch thousands trying to cross the sea to Italy in search of a better life in Europe. Although scorned by some critics for not sharing real stories and real human sacrifices. the author uses the allure of fiction to reel her reader in and unleash powerful emotions and ask difficult questions that face families and individuals. And as a book club read it works.
Jeanine Cummins said one of the reasons for writing this book was to personalise the human story so the reader might see this huge number of immigrants for what they are - individuals with their own unique story and background. She has certainly achieved her aim of bringing this story to our attention by not focusing on the mass migration or gratuitous violence of the cartels, but by humanising an individual’s reasons for making this treacherous crossing into the unknown.
A fantastic 'wow' read and definitely the talk of book clubs!
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