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American Dirt

Narrated by: Yareli Arizmendi
Length: 16 hrs and 54 mins
5 out of 5 stars (130 ratings)

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Summary

FEAR KEEPS THEM RUNNING.  

HOPE KEEPS THEM ALIVE.

Vivid, visceral, utterly compelling, American Dirt is the first novel to explore the experience of attempting to illegally cross the US-Mexico border. Described as 'impossible to put down' (Saturday Review) and 'essential reading' (Tracy Chevalier), it is a story that will leave you utterly changed.

Yesterday, Lydia had a bookshop.

Yesterday, Lydia was married to a journalist.

Yesterday, she was with everyone she loved most in the world.

Today, her eight-year-old son Luca is all she has left.

For him, she will carry a machete strapped to her leg.

For him, she will leap onto the roof of a high speed train.

For him, she will find the strength to keep running.

An Oprah's Bookclub Pick

As featured on Saturday Review

A BBC Radio 2 Bookclub Pick

Soon to be a BBC Radio 4 Book At Bedtime

A Book to Look Out For in the Observer, Stylist, Sunday Times, Independent, Vogue, New York Times, Oprah magazine, and more.

A Barnes and Noble Bookclub Pick

©2020 Jeanine Cummins (P)2020 Macmillan Audio

Critic reviews

"One hell of a novel about a good woman on the run with her beautiful boy." (Stephen King)

"I couldn't put it down. I'll never stop thinking about it." (Ann Patchett)

"It's been a long time since I turned pages as fast as I did with American Dirt. Its journey is a testament to the power of fear and hope and belief that there are more good people than bad." (John Grisham)

What members say

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    5 out of 5 stars

One of the best audio books I’ve listened to.

I must admit, when I saw that two well known authors of fiction had recommended this book, I was quite skeptical. However, I decided to risk a credit and I have to say this book is quite remarkable. It has opened my eyes to so many things. I really had no idea that drug cartels had so much power in some parts of the world. It is essentially the story of a mother and her young son, after their world has been utterly devastated by the murder of their family. Yet despite the sheer awfulness of their situation, it never once lapses into self pity or sentimentality. I won’t say anymore. Highly recommended.

9 people found this helpful

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Best book I’ve listened to in ages

Brilliantly written, beautifully narrated - incredibly gripping novel from start to finish... I’m sad it’s over but so glad someone’s tackled this subject matter in such an eloquent way.

1 person found this helpful

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A truly marvellous achievement.

This is such a brilliantly written novel. Full incredibly fully fleshed characters. What terrible experiences they have suffered but full of the will to survive. I am so impressed.

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A book everyone should read

Moving, honest, raw, human - an insight into the horrors people trying to escape horrors have to go through to get to a country that doesn’t want them - heartbreaking

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Excellent

I really enjoyed this audio book. Best book I have listened to. The story and narration are excellent. Holding my breath wishing the characters well.

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Powerful - and beautifully read....

This novel has been well reviewed and has had lots of publicity - not always the sign of a good book. However I was gripped from the start. The story begins in Acapulco, Mexico. Booksop owner Lydia has to go on the run with her eight year-old son Luca following the massacre of all her family by a local drug cartel. Her husband was an investigative reporter – not the safest of professions in present day Mexico.

Having no family and few resources she heads north with the hope of getting into the United States. For many in Latin America suffering from poverty, political repression or violence El Norte seems to be their only option. Lydia (middle class and well educated) soon finds herself mixing with a motley group of Latinos all heading north. She knows that criminality is everywhere and that she should be careful who she trusts.

Jeanine Cummins has obviously done an amazing amount of research and her book does not shirk in letting the reader know just how traumatic the trip can be for these desperate people. The plot moved at a good pace, all the characters were well drawn and I found it to be a compelling story.

So what about the controversy surrounding this book? Some critics have said that it should have been written by a Mexican. Well, it wasn’t – it was written by Jeanine Cummins who happens to be a white USA citizen. Works of art such as novels, paintings, plays and poetry should be viewed for what they are, not by reference to the author or artist. Novelists must be allowed to write from their imagination. Being restricted to your own narrow cultural range would be stultifying to say the least.

This book was excellent as an audiobook - beautifully read by Yereli Arizmendi.

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Worth your time

I don’t normally go for this type of book but the story was so engaging and the reader was brilliant .

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Not my thing

I personally found this book boring just not my thing. I thought it was about something else.


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Thoroughly Enjoyable & Very Necessary

A fast paced enjoyable book with very human characters which serves as a necessary counter balance to the thinking that Migrants are a faceless swarm. In another life the central characters. The Migrants, could be you and me!

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Stunning

This book is deeply affecting, beautifully written and totally devastating. The unbelievable kindness of strangers towards the main characters contrasts shockingly with the abject cruelty and omnipresent threat of violence. I don’t think I’ve read or listened to a book that gets as close as this one in capturing the depth and complexity of a mother’s love for her children. Eye-opening and extraordinary. Believe the hype.

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Profile Image for Cait Guyette
  • Cait Guyette
  • 02-02-20

Not worth the hype

American Dirt is a novel about Mexican cartels and migration written for basic gringas in book clubs. I am a fairly basic gringa. (But I did get kicked out of my book club years ago for the books I picked: David Sedaris was the nail in my book group coffin. I feel no remorse.)
The story starts compellingly but unravels into cliches. When I got this book I liked the sound of the story but as I live at the end of the earth, I wasn’t aware of the hype and subsequent backlash this book had received until after I started reading. I then tried to avoid all of the above.
So this is my take: To begin I am a person who believes in a full scale overhaul of the United States’ immigration policy is needed. I believe in Dreamers. I believe we need to create viable paths to citizenship for people. I’ve worked alongside legal and illegal immigrants and 1st generation citizens who have become lifelong friends and who are the most generous, kind people you could meet despite the majority of the USA treating them like garbage. I also left the United States and am a migrant in another country. I did not leave because of violence or in fear, so I don’t know that experience, but leaving your home, whether you want to or not is hard - and I travelled on a plane not jumping onto moving trains or trekking through the desert. But I know what it’s like to be “other” and to learn to never refer to myself as American again.
That being said, I do think books are a powerful way to bring awareness to these issues. Some basic white people need to realise “these criminals coming to take their jobs” are people: mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters. The fact that it this needs to happen is sad, but true. I think Jeanine Cummins meant well (and a 7 figure book deal probably didn’t hurt). I do believe an author is most effective when writing what they know, but should be able to write to others’ experiences if done with respect and research without condemnation. But they will and should be held to a higher standard.
The biggest problem with American Dirt is it just doesn’t hold up to even a normal standard. The characters are simple stereotypes, the action is predictable, the morals are clumsy and heavy handed, and the American Dream propaganda a bit too loud.
The most interesting and complex character to me was Javier, La Lechuza. I wish there had been more chapters on him and his viewpoint. He is still a bit of stereotype and the way that storyline ends is very disappointingly anti-climatic.
Yes, I think people who have lived a life a bit closer to Lydia’s should write this book. Yes, I think people who have been writing books of better quality but with less impressive press tours and blurbs should get more press and widespread devotion. But maybe this book and the controversy will get a basic gringa to seek out more authentic voices or, even better, to support immigration reform and closer ties to our neighbour, Mexico, to work together to reduce cartel violence.

3 people found this helpful