American Dirt: tight plot about Mexican border and migrants

Jeanine Cummins’s very important novel places you at the heart of human terror

Jeanine Cummins: drew on her grandmother’s experience of being displaced and misunderstood

Jeanine Cummins: drew on her grandmother’s experience of being displaced and misunderstood

In 2017, when Jeanine Cummins was writing American Dirt, a migrant died every 21 hours along the US-Mexico border. Worldwide that same year, a migrant died every 90 minutes in the Mediterranean, in Central America, in the Horn of Africa. Today, three years later, you need only scan the papers to find stories of “32 Libyans” rescued on the Mediterranean Sea, “60 migrants” intercepted on the English Channel, or “57,000 asylum seekers” waiting on court hearings in Mexican border towns. “But statistics cannot conjure individual human beings,” Cummins says. “I wrote American Dirt because I wanted to access the human story behind the headlines.”

My God, does this book shake the statistics out of you. It starts with a gunshot – “One of the very first bullets comes in through the open window above the toilet where Luca is standing” – and does not let up. It places you right in the heart of the terror and holds your eyes open. Released at the end of January, this might be the first book some people read this year. It might also be the best.

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