American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
‘Build the Wall’ said Donald Trump over and over again. The slogan was always a way of energising his base more than a piece of practical politics. The reality of course didn’t really matter. According to Pew Research http://www.pewresearch.org, Mexican immigration into the US has been in long term decline. The significant factor in this has been economic recession which has removed exactly the jobs which migrants find attractive. Of those who are stopped at the border, Mexicans are no longer the majority. But the US retains a magnetic attraction as a land of wealth and opportunity – and safety – for many people who are simply desperate.
American Dirt is a story which tries to get inside the experience of Lydia one Mexican migrant and her eight year old son on their flight to ‘el Norte’, the United States. I thought it was a great book – a real page turner.
Lydia has seen fifteen members of her extended family brutally murdered after her investigative journalist husband published an expose of the leader of a local cartel. She is convinced that her only hope of survival is to get to the US – somehow escaping the network of informers which the cartels maintain across the country.
The book describes the various twists and turns of the story – particlarly the experience of riding La Beste – the freight trains which run through Mexico towards the US border. This is staggeringly difficult and dangerous. Along the way, there is unexpected kindness and there is betrayal. The final part of the book describes her experience as part of a group being led by a guide – or Coyote – on a three day trek through some of the most inhospitable and desert border regions between Mexico and the US.
There has been controversy about this book – some of its popularity stems from a recommendation from Oprah Winfrey. There has been some ‘what does a person like this really know about the experience of the migrants?’ criticism. But it was the best I have read in a while.