AMERICAN DIRT BY JEANINE CUMMINGS: A SUMMARY

Mukanda Maombola
3 min readJul 6, 2020

Pop culture and book twitter pushed me towards Jeanine Cummings direction, Her new novel American dirt caused quite the stir. Critics had a thing or two while trolls on twitter exhausted the 280 characters. I wanted to read this book mostly because of the controversy surrounding it. An American author writing a fictional book about immigration from Mexico to the American, the audacity!. The principle reason being, she has not experienced immigration first hand. To most people, it's only an experience worth telling if one has lived it, if not then as we say in pop culture, it's cancelled.

Mexican authors have not been given as much space in the literal world, only for a foreigner to tell their story and garner what to them was their price

The book was labelled “stereotypical” and “appropriative”. How could a woman with a Puerto Rican grandmother write about Immigration from Mexico? Never mind that Cummins had conducted research in Mexico for the novel, visiting migrant shelters and orphanages, interviewing humanitarian aid workers and lawyers who work with migrants, and volunteering at a soup kitchen in Tijuana according to her Wikipedia. The final straw came from Oprah Winfrey when she selected it for her famous book club — Book twitter erupted, it was crazy, Cummins book tour was cancelled. She had rubbed a few the wrong way.

Despite all this, I picked up the book and was hooked from the word go.

American Dirt is a story of a fierce mother and her determined son’s escape from Mexico to America after her whole family is murdered by a feared cartel in their home town. Lydia had a normal life by the World’s standards. A Journalist husband who loves her, an intelligent son who has mastered most of the world’s Cities’ maps, an extended family she adores and a book shop she enjoys running.

It is at this bookshop that Lydia meets Javier Fuentes, the leader of the newly formed Cartel in town. Here they develop a deep friendship based on their love for books and poetry. A few months down the line, Lydia realizes that her friend is, in fact, the one responsible for the deaths in her town. When Sebastian, Lydia’s husband does a tell-all profile of Javier, it opens Javier up to the town. Javier somehow likes the piece, it is honest, his daughter, however, does not and commits Suicide at her boarding school. Javier then murders Lydia’s family…. sixteen family members, to avenge his daughter’s death except for her and her son Luca, the two were hiding in a bathroom.

Forced to flee, Lydia and her eight-year-old find themselves miles away from their comfortable middle-class existence. This is a story of a woman risking death by jumping onto a moving train, la bestia, abduction, rape and her comfortable life in order to let her son stay alive and for a safe life.

Along the way, they join fellow Migrants in the quest for a better life in America. They come face to face with death, people’s humanity, people’s inhumanity and make friendships that make the gruelling journey a little easier.

American dirt is a great book — I read it in three days and it utterly changed me. When Luca and Lydia finally get to America, after three days crossing the Arizona desert on foot, led by their very expensive Coyote, my face is wet and I just realize that I’ve read one of the most poignant but important books of my generation.

--

--