Book Review – American Dirt

Am still processing this book titled American Dirt written by Jeanine Cummins. I first thought it was way back in the 70’s or 80’s but quickly realised that its set in today’s world. The story is based on real life ! The characters may be fictional, but there are migrants like Lydia, Luca, Soledad and Rebeca.

American Dirt

Mexican Gangland to American Dreamland

In the very second chapter of this book there is a statement that grips you … “He can prolong the moment of irrational hope that maybe some sliver of yesterday’s world is still intact.” This is 8 year old Luca’s thought as he witnesses 16 members of his family getting killed, which includes his father.

I couldn’t help thinking of what happened in the 1984 Sikh Riots. It was exactly this kind of senseless carnage that was witnessed by one of Krishnan’s ex-colleagues brother. He hasn’t recovered from it and probably never will.

American Dirt is about a book lover and a book shop owner Lydia and her son Luca witnessing the gruesome murder of 16 family members and their escape from Acapulco to a border town in Arizona. Javier, the poet who is also the chief of the Los Jardineros cartel is the one behind the murders.

Javier’s character is chilling in its reality. Gone are the days when drug lords and terrorists were uneducated hooligans or dirt poor “wayward” boys. Today they visit book shops, write poetry, in some cases become politicians … totally normal folk who don’t hesitate to turn around and gun down anyone for their interests.

The author has brilliantly brought out all stages of grief and terror through Lydia’s character.

Another excerpt that caught my attention – “If there is one good thing about terror, Lydia now understands, its that its more immediate than grief. She knows that she will soon have to contend with what’s happened, but for now, the possibility of what might still happen serves to anesthetize her from the worst of the anguish.”

“..Seldom had she experienced such profound and authentic friendship in her life.” Lydia and Javier. And the same friend kills her husband, mother and 14 other members of her family. How does one ever get past that ?

Then starts the escape – Lydia and Luca become migrants. They ride the La Bestia, the Beast, a freight train that takes migrants to the US. Its still happening – ‘La Bestia’ — the train of violence and assault that takes migrants to US-Mexico border.

As chapter after chapter talks about the migrants and their travails, I thought of the Kashmiri Pandits and their exodus within India. We let it happen in this day and age and right under our secular noses. At least now, after the abrogation of Art 370, we are truly “one” country. A piece of our land was held siege and the real children of the land became refugees.

The entire La Bestia journey is a nightmare for women. In the book, the sisters Soledad and Rebeca are sexually assaulted by border police and if the newspaper article is to be believed, every woman who gets onto the La Bestia train is raped. Some even take birth control pills knowing this would happen. How mind numbing is that ? And we live in the 21st century, supposedly in modern times …. we haven’t really moved past our barbaric instincts.

The most disturbing thing about the modern day terrorist or drug lord is that they live amongst us “normal” people. So we just need to watch out !

A grim book that takes one on a La Bestia journey … on the twin rails of terror and grief. The train is the connect between the two and the way out of both.

Do read.

3 thoughts on “Book Review – American Dirt”

  1. It’s very sad that a large number of human beings, however precious their souls, can seemingly be considered thus treated as though disposable, even to an otherwise free, democratic and relatively civilized nations. It is also like their suffering is somehow less worthy of our concern. And when they take note of this, tragically, they’re vulnerable to begin subconsciously perceiving themselves as inferior beings without value.

    Such inhuman(e) perception of devaluation reminds me of a similar external perception of disposability towards the daily civilian lives lost in protractedly devastating war zones and famine-stricken nations. The worth of such life will be measured by its overabundance and/or the protracted conditions under which it suffers. They can eventually receive meagre column inches on the back page in the First World’s daily news.


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