A list of critical reviews for American Dirt




by David Schmidt



“In fact, at its best moments American Dirt simply copies from these works—most notably, from the writings of Sonia Nazario and Luis Alberto Urrea. One scene describes a garbage dump in Tijuana that appears in Urrea’s 1993 book, Across the Wire, but hasn’t existed for some 20 years. The descriptions of Pastor Ignacio and his migrant shelter in Celaya, central Mexico, were clearly copied from Urrea’s blogs and Facebook posts. Cummins makes one glaring omission, though: Pastor Ignacio provides special attention to amputee victims. I visited his shelter early this January, and heard from migrants who had lost arms and legs. The important thing is, they suffered these accidents on the train, either by falling onto the tracks or falling victim to Mara gang members. These are precisely the kind of facts that Cummins’s story fails to reflect.”





There’s Nothing Thrilling About Trauma



“There’s a reason that most people who go through the kind of traumatic events exploited by American Dirt choose not to write their stories as thrillers. Traumatic events have to be survived in the moment, and for many years after. Writing about past trauma is often a means of self-preservation. Thrillers are at cross-purposes with this: They require oversimplification and demand a source of exhilaration. I have yet to meet someone who finds their own trauma exhilarating.”



Pendeja, You ain’t Steinbeck: My Bonca with Fake-Ass Social Justice Literature

By Myriam Gurba

“They head north, or, as Cummins’ often writes, to “el norte,” and italicized Spanish words like carajomijo, and amigo litter the prose, yielding the same effect as store-bought taco seasoning.

It shocks Lydia to learn that the mysterious and wealthy patron who frequents her bookstore flanked by “[thuggish]” bodyguards is the capo of the local drug cartel! It shocks Lydia to learn that some central Americans migrate to the United States by foot! It shocks Lydia to learn that men rape female migrants en route to the United States! It shocks Lydia to learn that Mexico City has an ice-skating rink! (This “surprise” gave me a good chuckle: I learned to ice skate in México.) That Lydia is so shocked by her own country’s day-to-day realities, realities that I’m intimate with as a Chicana living en el norte, gives the impression that Lydia might not be…a credible Mexican. In fact, she perceives her own country through the eyes of a pearl-clutching American tourist.”



American Dirt’s problem is bad writing, not cultural appropriation

By Nesrine Malik

“Cultural appropriation as a criticism often creeps into the debate when the work that is being accused of doing so simply isn’t very good. The writer herself caveated her book by saying that “I wished someone slightly browner than me would write it.” The less controversial fact is that American Dirt didn’t need a browner writer to save it from the opprobrium. It needed a better one.”



American Dirt’ was supposed to be a publishing triumph. What went wrong?


JAN. 26, 2020

“They’re handling it like they handle a Marvel comics movie,” said Roberto Lovato, a Salvadoran American writer in San Francisco, who is finalizing an upcoming memoir. “But this industry will make you dance the minstrel salsa dance or the minstrel cumbia dance,” he added, in reference to the tenor of Latino-themed titles that are deemed palatable to wide audiences.”



A Mother and Son, Fleeing for Their Lives Over Treacherous Terrain

By Parul Sehg

“There is a fair amount of action in the book — chases, disguises, one thuddingly obvious betrayal — but if you’re at all sensitive to language, your eye and ear will snag on the sentences. There are so many instances and varieties of awkward syntax I developed a taxonomy. There is subtext announced at booming volume. There are the strained similes (when Lydia finds she is unable to pray, “she believes it’s a divine kindness. Like a government furlough, God has deferred her nonessential agencies”). There are perplexing bird analogies (the beautiful sisters look at Lydia, “their expressions ranging like a quarrel of sparrows”; “Mami’s cry, a shrill, corporeal thing, it bubbles out of her like a fully formed bird and it flies, but Mami doesn’t”).



The American Dirt Controversy Is Painfully Intramural

Novels can change minds, but this novel won’t.

Randy Boyagoda Novelist and professor of English at the University of Toronto

American Dirt is fantasy fiction for suburban readers, with its plétora of italicized Spanish words, its graphically rendered and fast-paced simulacra of real-world dangers and class- and culture-transcending solidarities, its damp lyricism, and its imperiled, resilient, working-mom hero. By the end of American Dirt, Lydia is up late at night reading a novel in her new home in El Norte.”



Digging Into ‘American Dirt’


JAN 29, 2020

“American Dirt was released with much anticipation—acclaimed Latina writer Sandra Cisneros called the book “the great novel of las Américas.” Julia Alvarez, Reyna Grande and Erika Sánchez also wrote positively about the novel. And this month, American Dirt got one of the most important endorsements there is when it comes to sales: it was chosen as the next book in Oprah Winfrey’s book club.”
Listen to @Maria_Hinojosa audio interview with Myriam Gurba, Sandra Cisneros, Luis Alberto Urrea, and Jeanine Cummins on this site:



The Problem With American Dirt Is Not Its Author’s Background

I couldn’t care less if Jeanine Cummins is white, but her book is a failure.

“. . .Mexican drug lords are not aspiring poets who read Irish fiction or enjoy delicate French cocoa bites. Rather, they resemble people like Juan Ulises Laredo, known as “the Virus,” leader of one of the dominant gangs in the region that Cummins depicts. Or Nemesio Oseguera, “El Mencho,” who runs the CJNG cartel, Mexico’s most dangerous and violent criminal organization. None of these guys could have been Bill Gates, in this or any other life. Cummins might have created an interesting drug lord, but Javier is pure fiction. He is not an accurate representation of Mexico’s criminals.”


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