Even before its release the book world was buzzing about American Dirt – a terrifying yet tender novel about a woman and her young son trying to cross illegally from Mexico into the US – and for good reason. Jeanine Cummins has put a very human face to one of the greatest ongoing tragedies of current times.
From the very first page this exquisitely written book hurtles along like a thoroughbred fresh out of the starting gates: Lydia Perez and eight-year-old Luca are at a family gathering in a middle-class suburb of Acapulco when a gang of cartel gunmen arrive. Lydia's journalist husband Sebastián has written things about the cartel that they don't like, and their answer is to wipe out his entire family. Lydia and Luca, however, are in the bathroom when the shooting begins and manage to hide from the assassins. Knowing the cartel won't rest until they, too, are dead, mother and son flee north to the US – the only place the long arm of the cartel doesn't reach. It's an arduous journey, some of it made riding atop the freight trains that run the length of Mexico.
Danger is everywhere, but they also encounter kindness and kindred spirits, like 10-year-old Beto, who was born in a dump yet has the ability to make them laugh just when it seems life couldn't get any worse. No matter how difficult their odyssey is through the badlands of Mexico, however, the greatest challenge is ahead of them – the journey by foot across the deadly Sonoran Desert, where hundreds of illegal immigrants perish every year. An eye-opening story that humanises the migrant experience in all its beauty and horror.
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