“American Dirt” by Jeanine Cummins
I think I should begin this review of what is a most interesting read about the Mexican immigration issue into the States by identifying that certainly at the beginning it is not a read for people of a disposition that abhors violence. It does begin with the massacre of of a whole family described in some quite lurid prose. This graphic description is however not gratuitous, it does introduce us to the cruelty of the drug cartels that dominate Mexican society, and in this instance Acapulco.
Lydia Quixano Perez is a bookshop owner, her husband Sebastian, an investigative journalist, and their eight year old son Luca are attending a family party when the onslaught occurs. Lydia and Luca are in the bathroom and by a miracle avoid the hail of bullets that decimate 16 family members. The whys and wherefores of this assault are explained as the story progresses, but the bulk of the novel is about Lydia and Luca fleeing their home city and heading for the USA with the “Los Jardineros” cartel on their trail, their leader Javier vengeful after what he sees as some kind of betrayal when Sebastian publishes a damning expose of his nefarious business practices. Lydia knows Javier as a customer of her shop, only later finding out about his real life.
The main part of this story though is about Lydia and Luca’s journey across Mexico always heading north, pursued by Javier’s men, befriended by fellow travelers. They join up with two young sisters, Soledad and Rebeca from Honduras, who in the own right have their own history to disclose. There are hair-raising journeys on top of freight trains, La Bestia, cruel migration officials, corrupt policemen, and so much more; all this detail seems very genuine, and the author has spent four years researching her subject, and as such, it is all of this that for me makes the book some kind of essential reading as it is informative indeed educational.
Their journey is long, full of surprises, some kind and generous, others less so. Eventually the quartet, along with other additions and travel companions reaches the Mexican frontier, where they pay El Chacal, their coyote or guide, to cross the border through a stark physically draining desert route.
I do recommend this book; I repeat it is not for the feint hearted, but it is a strangely rewarding read and becomes quite compulsive. It carries some endorsements from the literary elite, some I do disagree with, but over all it deserved the praise and reviews it has received.