American Dirt. Finished 4-11-20, 4/5 stars, fiction, pub 2019
Lydia Quixano Pérez lives in the Mexican city of Acapulco. She runs a bookstore. She has a son, Luca, the love of her life, and a wonderful husband who is a journalist. And while there are cracks beginning to show in Acapulco because of the drug cartels, her life is, by and large, fairly comfortable.
Even though she knows they’ll never sell, Lydia stocks some of her all-time favorite books in her store. And then one day a man enters the shop to browse and comes up to the register with a few books he would like to buy—two of them her favorites. Javier is erudite. He is charming. And, unbeknownst to Lydia, he is the jefe of the newest drug cartel that has gruesomely taken over the city. When Lydia’s husband’s tell-all profile of Javier is published, none of their lives will ever be the same.
Forced to flee, Lydia and eight-year-old Luca soon find themselves miles and worlds away from their comfortable middle-class existence. Instantly transformed into migrants, Lydia and Luca ride la bestia—trains that make their way north toward the United States, which is the only place Javier’s reach doesn’t extend. As they join the countless people trying to reach el norte, Lydia soon sees that everyone is running from something. But what exactly are they running to? from Goodreads
So, I read about the controversy before my book group picked it for this month. I understood that it was coming from a sincere place. I won’t go into it much here, but you can always do a search if you’re interested, there are lots of articles. I read the first shocking and heartbreaking chapter and understood the hook. I was drawn in right from the get go.
The story begins with the violent murders of Lydia’s family, fourteen in total, by the cartel in Acapulco. Forced to flee with her son, this middle class bookstore owner has more means and motive than the average migrant heading north. The two are literally running for their lives. Luca is only a year younger than Gage and I would love to own a bookstore so I was perhaps extra invested in their plight. The complexity of escaping the cartel and the stories of the people they met along the was eye opening.
I liked the way that the story was told with live action interspersed with significant flashbacks to give the story heft. There was a humanizing of all of the characters that you don’t often find. It’s a timely and important story with a perspective not many of us understand and for that reason alone it should be read.
My book group of ten all liked the book to varying degrees, except for the one who only made it to the 82% mark. I found it hard to read about such a heartbreaking topic when I was so stressed and I do think that tempered my enjoyment of it. I’m still glad that I read it.