It’s been a long time since I read a novel that has stuck with me for me several days after finishing. Two other books I read that have really made an impact in me are Educated, by Tara Westover, and Beneath a Scarlet Sky, by Mark Sullivan. I highly recommend them.
But back to American Dirt. I think this is an important book for our time in America. Where I live there is a portion of our population that is undocumented and I worked at an elementary school that has several families that are in various stages from illegal to in the process of a visa. Working closely with these families was at times extremely frustrating to sometimes sympathetic. It is a very complicated situation without any easy solutions. I believe in rule of law and have always felt strongly that there is a right way and a wrong way for immigrants to come to the United States. This book has opened my eyes to the desperation that causes many people to come to the United States. I also have spoken with a few families that are from Mexico and they confirmed many of the problems in Mexico, including the cartels, the corrupt government, drugs, kidnapping, trafficking, bribery, and murder.
This book left me with two distinct emotions: sympathy for the migrants, but also no understanding of why people from Mexico or Central America once they get here do not do everything possible to become citizens or get refugee status or something. Granted, I don’t know what it takes, but surely there is some way to start the process. The other thing that frustrates me is that many people don’t learn English, even after years in this country. I know it’s hard to learn a new language as an adult, but for those that have been in horrendous situations I would think I would want to become a part of my new country. Now, before you say I don’t know what I ask talking about, you are right. It’s just this book got me thinking.
American Dirt follows the story of a family in Acapulco. The husband is a journalist and the wife owns a book store. They have an 8 year old son. The gist is the husband writes an article about the cartel leader and the horror that he brings the community. As a backlash, he murders the whole family at a birthday party, 16 people total, while only Mom and son survived. The story is their escape to the North, the people they meet and the harrowing trip.
The book is well written, engaging, slightly disturbing, and at times violent, but never overly graphic. I liked the point of view from a mother protecting her son and the complete survival mode she encompasses. The strength she portrayed is uplifting even though her situation is quite dismal. I don’t know how accurate the book is on the journey to the north, but then again, every situation would be different.
I wonder what can be done about the cartels and the corruption in Mexico and Central America. I know not every country or city is bad, but statistics say it is getting worse and spreading. Many people feel they don’t have a choice but risk their lives to leave and hope for a fresh start in the US. What can we do? I think the US would not be able to sustain an unlimited number of immigrants for many reasons, and I would imagine most people would prefer to stay in their own country if they were safe and could trust their government. These are just some of my thoughts after reading the book. I’d love to hear your thoughts!