American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

I thought that in ‘these strange times’c I would only want to read a book which was as light and as fluffy as a cloud, something the take my mind off the stuff going on outside my little home bubble – something light-hearted, frivolous, maybe about shopping and lunching with friends. So when I opened this book (or switched on my kindle, but you know what I mean) and found that the first chapter is about a horrific slaughter (no spoilers, it’s the whole premise of the book) I actually put it back down and gave up on it.

Luckily, I saw sense and the next evening, picked it back up and gave it another go – and I am bloody glad I did. The story follows a mother and son as they run from a Mexican drug cartel, leaving Acapulco behind and starting an epic journey to perceived safety. Their journey takes them to horror and places which they never thought they’d see, and indeed in another life time they wouldn’t have seen them, but this is their new reality and they have no choice but to get on with it.

The reason why this worked for me at this stage (ie in the middle of a global pandemic) is because the story that Cummins has written happens to be about Lydia and her son Luca, running away from criminals but it could be about any number of individuals and their stories and experiences of being Central / South American’s trying to find a better life in the States. In other words, the story being told is bigger than the book, it’s an experience which I can’t imagine I’ll ever have to go through but that thousands and thousands of people do and as a result it felt OK to be reading about it. It didn’t feel frivolous, but it felt important – it didn’t feel fluffy but it felt necessary. It is brutal, but it didn’t feel like overload because it is (thankfully) far removed from our reality right now and in usual circumstances.

I know they have serialised this on Radio 4 recently (still available on Sounds right now, I just checked) but having listened to a few episodes, they have missed out chunks of glorious descriptions and I think that you would probably lose something by not seeing the words. It’s not a perfect novel, it’s a bit erratic but the pace and story line and the characters more than make up for it.

Even in ‘these strange times’ this is a bloody good read. Recommended.

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