Book Review: American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

This is a heart-thumping, gripping story about a woman and her son running for their lives from a murderous drug lord.

Lydia Perez, a book shop owner in Acapulco lives with her journalist husband and eight-year-old son, Luca. After her husband writes a story about the leader of a drug cartel who had unknowingly formed a friendship with Lydia, revenge is sought and he murders all of her family. Lydia and Luca, the only survivors flee for their lives and commence the hazardous and tortuous journey to the USA.

This is ultimately a story of survival as refugees. The UN Refugee Agency estimates as at 30 June 2020 that the number of people forcibly displaced is now at 80 million with over 26 million refugees.

Cummins shines a light on one part of the world where the flow of refugees is not just from Mexico but from countries to the south, where drug lords’ rule and government corruption is rife. It’s an incredibly moving, yet gripping account of Lydia’s and Luca’s survival and the refugees they meet along the way. It also highlights the problems of ‘that wall’ so controversial in the USA.

‘None of it is funny to Lydia. She hadn’t been naive enough to think they were in the clear yet, but she did think the nature of the most pressing threat would’ve changed by now. She thought that … she’d have to worry more about Border Patrol, about the possibility of Luca being taken from her, and less about random men with guns enforcing their own decrees … She knows that anyone they encounter here, in this wild, desolate place, would mean the end.’

The story although fictional, forces the reader to relate to refugees as human beings. What compels a person to leave everything behind to take such a hazardous and arduous journey? It’s quite simple: desperation. The mean-spiritedness of some governments around the world is deplorable yet the plight of refugees continues without solution.

This is an unputdownable, nerve-wracking, tension-packed novel, yet it provides hope and inspiration. The character of Luca, in particular is very well drawn and the courage and bravery of the child is truly breath taking. The other characters, Lydia, Rebeca and Soledad are more than characters. They are people we care about, wanting them to be saved and to have a better life.

Do Lydia and Luca actually make it across the border? You’ll have to read it for yourself.

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