Sunday, January 26, 2020
The Sunday Salon... and Should we Read American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
This week I received a pre-order of American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins in the mail. I had read a lot of great press about the book and decided to pre-order and have it arrive at the house the day it came out... so I could avoid having to go out in that cold. It came! Yay! I opened the package and then I was struck by a little yellow circle blazing on my front cover like a beam of light from a freight train... and one of my pet peeves in book jacket designs. I HATE, let me repeat, I HATE those little "advertisements" on the front covers of books."Now made into a major motion picture", "So and so says blah, blah, blah", and this week, "Oprah's Book Club 2020". And that little Oprah blurb I can't even remove because it's actually part of the design. Something I didn't realize was happening when I ordered the book. I had no idea it was an Oprah pick. So, this week I was going to talk about that... Bookish Pet Peeves, but after getting American Dirt in the mail and starting to read it, the internet exploded with so much controversy over this book, I thought we'd touch on that this week...
Do you care who writes your book?
The controversy surrounding American Dirt is simply this, Jeannine Cummins, who herself has said, is a White, Priviledged person. Because of this can she write this book? The book is about a Mexican Mother and her son who must flee Mexico after her whole family is murdered by a drug kingpin's gang. This story is about the migrant experience, the horrors of the journey to a better life. Can extensive research, and 7 years of research in Jeannine Cummins' case, trump the actual experience?
So, now there is a raging argument that American Dirt is full of stereotypes and incorrect information on Mexican culture. In an online article for The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jane Henderson writes:
Latinx writers argue that their more authentic depictions in fiction and nonfiction have not gotten as much support from American publishers as books by white authors, and they pointed to elements in "American Dirt" they felt were stereotypes or errors regarding Mexican culture. Much of the criticism on social media was based on a review by Myriam Gurba.
There is also controversy over the LARGE amount of money for the author received for the book from the publisher, and how if it was a Latinx writer the amount would not have been as significant.
On the flip side of the controversy, with publishers and reviewers who have praised the book, but now feel as though they need to take a step back, there is the thought that even if there are things "wrong" with the depictions and the story, this book will open the eyes of many to the horrors of these migrants who travel the dangerous road to a better life.
What do you think? Personally I rarely discount an author's work just based on what I hear, although it does happen. Recently after I purchased The Giver of Stars by Jojo Moyes I discoverd a whole slew of controversy over plagerism and publisher favoritism. Supposedly the publisher helped the book along by pulling ideas from another book that they were publishing, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richardson. At that point I did a bit of research on the latter book and decided after reading how much book clubs loved Kim's book to choose that one for my book club's January read. I still have the Jojo Moyes book, but it really irks me that the publisher might have done that. When I do read it, I will judge for myself if there are too many similarities in the story.
I'm still going to read American Dirt. The beginning of the book was absolutely terrifying and just sucked me in. And no matter what the critisism's are, I was really enjoying her writing. Maybe we can all enjoy it as a story of a Mother's love for her son and be happy with that? Or maybe I can treat it as a book of FICTION and keep that in the back of my head as I read the story for what it is. It's not as though Jeannine Cummins stole the idea from another author either. And if you do a google search for American Dirt controversy, you'll have pages of links, some of which give you alternative reads. Why can't I just read this one? I think I will...
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins was published by Flatiron books and released january 21st. It is an Oprah Book Club pick, The #1 Indie Next Choice, and Editors Choice of the New York Times Book Review. It has been praised by many, many authors. Share your thoughts on this in the comments below! I would love to hear what you think!
Happy Reading... Suzanne