Monday, July 6, 2020

American Dirt

American Dirt, Jeanine Cummins

This absolutely compelling book is heartbreaking and yet hopeful. I wanted to take my time over it, but couldn’t put it down.

Lydia and her husband Sebastián have lived with eight year old son, Luca, in their hometown of Acapulco their whole lives. But, it has changed in recent years with the rise of a new cartel ruler, La Lechuza, who rules the city.

Sebasti├ín has been targeted as a journalist, and in one afternoon 16 family members have been murdered at a BBQ at her mother’s house, but astonishingly Lydia and Luca are overlooked. Their lives remain in danger, but this man controls the whole region, so where do they go? The police will not act, or may turn her over. No one can be trusted.

So, with few belongings and their life savings in her pocket, they flee the city. She knows they will never be safe in Mexico with the extent of his reach, so they plan their route to el norte to the “Estados Unidos”. (You may also benefit from having Google Maps open at points to chart their course, and occasionally Google Translate to see what some words mean.) They will be pushed to their limits, and tested in ways they never knew possible.
“Trauma waits for stillness. Lydia feels like a cracked egg, and she doesn’t know if she’s the shell or the yolk or the white. She is scrambled.”
“So much has happened that each hour of this journey feels like a year, but there’s something more that that. It’s the bond of trauma, the bond of sharing an indescribably experience together. Whatever happens, no one else in their lives will ever fully comprehend the ordeal of this pilgrimage, the characters they’ve met, the fear that travels with them, the grief and fatigue that eat at them.”
There’s no question this is hard reading. They meet up with two teenage girls along the way, and everything that you would imagine happening to them while they are on the run does. None of the violence is explicitly detailed, but you can imagine the horror of their experience. You are fully exposed to the sinfulness of humanity, yet there are moments when the kindness of others comes through. Churches, pastors and loving people along their route provide safe haven. Some men will protect them. It’s a pretty damning view of Mexico; Cummins notes at the end, in 2017 it was the deadliest country in the world to be a journalist. The nationwide murder rate was the highest on record and most are unsolved, because the cartels operate with impunity. It’s remarkably sobering, and seems an almost unsolvable problem.

As a pastor warns them along the way:
"If it’s possible for you to turn back, do so now…If there is any other place for you to go, to stay away from these trains, to stay away for el norte, go there now…This path is only for people who have no choice, no other option, only violence and misery behind you. And your journey will grow even more treacherous from here….Some of you will fall from the trains. Many will be maimed or injured. Many will die. Many, many of you will be kidnapped, tortured, trafficked or ransomed. Some of you will be lucky enough to survive all of that and make it as far as Estados Unidos only to experience the privilege of dying alone in the desert behind the sun, abandoned by a corrupt coyote, or shot by a narco who doesn’t like the look of you. Every single one of you will be robbed. Every one. If you make it to el norte, you will arrive penniless, that’s a guarantee."
An excellent, challenging and gripping book about what being a migrant on the run might look like.

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