Book Review

American Dirt's book cover

I have lived long and have read thousands of books, mostly in English, my native language, but also in German and Spanish, from classics – Dickens, Twain, Dostoevsky, Goethe, Garcia Marquez to detective and, especially, spy stories, but never have I read a book that affected me more than American dirt, by an author I'd never heard of. Is it a better book than or even as good as those classics? Not at all, they will retain their laurels, but they were then, this is now.

Lydia Quixano Pérez runs a bookstore in Acapulco, Mexico, where she lives with her husband, Sebastián, who is a crusading investigative journalist, and their eight-year-old son, Luca. Sebastián eventually writes an article about the new narco cartel, Los jardineros, who have taken over Acapulco. His courage and honesty amount to death warrants, however, for him and his whole family. When the sicaros arrive at a family reunion with murderous intent, Lydia and Luca happen to be in the bathroom, and are able to escape before they are found. The intention was to kill the entire family as revenge for the Sebastián's article, so Lydia and Luca will have to flee Acapulco, setting them on a long journey to el norte, aka the United States.

The book is very much a page-turner. Stephen King, in a blurb, dared anyone to read the first seven page and be able to put it down. I couldn't, except to sleep. President Trump isn't named, but if you disliked him before because of his efforts to build a wall and shoot to kill “migrants” from Mexico and Central America, after reading this book you will find it hard not hate him. The migrants travel on the roof of a rumbling freight train called “la bestia”; awaiting them in “el norte” is a beast called “the Ronald”. I won't spoil it here by telling you if Lydia and Luca, and some friends they acquire on the journey, succeed in escaping both. You'd have to ask why would a young woman accompanied by only an eight-year-old child - and many others like her - undertake such a perilous journey. The answer is they have no choice: it's either that or death, or worse, at home. It offers at least some hope.

The book has been criticized in Amazon by a few Mexicans who are scandalized that an “Anglo” would dare to write about the adventures and sufferings of Latinos and, according to them, the story contains some inaccuracies. They seem to have forgotten or never realized that this is a novel, not a documentary, and it tells a story of fictional human beings whose cries and loving actions serve immeasurably better than any documentary to awaken the minds of multitudes to a true inhuman situation which must be corrected … somehow, sometime, and soon.

Frank Thomas Smith