Book Fiend: 'American Dirt' takes you past your misconceptions

Jeanine Cummins' novel about Mexican migrants will move you beyond your comfort zone.

Lyn Dockter-Pinnick reviews "American Dirt" by Jeanine Cummins.

Books often take me to different places. I learn things from books and often, when I am writing book reviews for this column, I review non-fiction.

Fiction usually does not help me to grow as a person as much as I know I need. I want books to force me to experience something that is not my own.

An avid reader since I was a child growing up on a small farm in western North Dakota, books opened up a world to me; therefore, I advocate READING. Read something that pulls you out of yourself and your own comfort zone. Read something that challenges your beliefs and helps you to see something entirely different from your own experience.

My choice for this column, “American Dirt” by Jeanine Cummins, did that for me.

“American Dirt” is the story of two migrants: a mother and her son, fleeing the cartels of Acapulco. It is a novel, but it reads like a true story of an account of Mexican migrants.


I was drawn to the book because of our southern borders and what is happening there. Much attention has been given to the issues around immigration. From fear to hate to desire for opening the borders to policy changes, it seems everyone has an opinion about what is happening at our southern border.

But what is it like for a migrant? Who are the migrants? This novel, which has received intense criticism, captures the experience in compelling detail. It is like reading a newspaper article and a crime thriller at the same time.

Although I consider myself a progressive, and feel tremendous compassion for those who are seeking a better life in a different nation, while reading the novel, I realized that I had missed seeing my misconceptions about the migrant experience. I had missed seeing my own stereotypes.

Before the novel was released, it was widely lauded, and Oprah Winfrey touted it as a feature for her book club. Criticism became intense as critics felt the author, who is white and received a six-figure advance for the novel, was sensationalizing and profiting off an experience of trauma to such a degree that the experience was dehumanizing for migrants. The book has been decried as “trauma porn.” Similar books by persons of color have not received as much attention and certainly not that kind of monetary advance.

The criticism is probably justified. The details are lurid. But the telling of the story feels authentic. Lydia, and her son, became intensely real to me as did the migrant experience.

If you are searching for a book that you will find a page-turner while also perhaps an experience entirely different than your own in central Minnesota, I highly recommend “American Dirt.”

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