Digging up some (American) Dirt

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A young woman and her son are on the run, to escape Mexico and take refuge in America. Sounds simple enough, but the new novel American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins has drawn its fair share of controversy. If you haven’t heard of it already, read a breakdown here.

At first when I read about this, I thought what’s wrong? Why can’t the author write about experiences that aren’t their own? That’s all what most fiction is about – putting ourselves into the shoes of the characters and tackling situations they fall into with the required empathy.

The two contradictory reviews confused me too. Here’s a negative one by the New York Times’ Parul Sehgal, and a positive one by Lauren Groff. But the backlash began with a derisive review by writer Myriam Gurba.

Things exploded further when Oprah Winfrey picked the book as her selection for her book club, though sensibly enough she has now decided to hear both sides of the story before committing to it.

As a few writer friends pointed out to me, the publishing world is not chasing down Latinx writers to pen such stories. So why accept it from someone who doesn’t know the inner workings, no matter how much research they’ve done?

This satirical piece on McSweeney’s helped put things into perspective for me. I laughed out a lot in understanding. The reverse situation would never happen.

The Guardian has weighed in on it as well, in addition to the New York Times.

The best way to make up your mind on this issue – read the excerpt for yourself and judge.

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