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The plot of the book
This is the story of the bookstore owner Lydia Quixano Perez from Acapulco, who lives a prosperous life with her journalist husband Sebastian and her son Luca. One day, in her store, she meets Javier, a visitor who, like her, loves rare books. At first, the heroes get along, but later it turns out that Javier is the head of the drug cartel. Lydia's husband decides to publish an article about him, and from that moment the family's life turns into a nightmare. The bandits start hunting them, Sebastian is killed, and the heroine decides to flee with her eight-year-old son to the USA.
Before writing the book, Cummins traveled to Mexico, where she interviewed deported families, talked with migrants in the camps of Tijuana, consulted with human rights activists and lawyers.
What is the author criticized for?
One of the main complaints about Cummins' work is inaccuracy. According to critics, the images in the book turned out to be too superficial and more reminiscent of tourist observations. Because of this, the heroine of the novel looks ridiculous and is surprised at things that are familiar to Mexicans. Many of the readers began to point out inaccuracies, incorrect slang, cliches and stereotypes. Some were outraged by the image of Mexico, which is portrayed in the book as a wild country ruled by bandits and cartels.
Cummins herself once admitted that she, as a white writer, is unlikely to ever understand the experience of people with a different skin color.
“Almost my entire family is white. I will never understand that impotent rage over stereotypes or systemic obstacles to success because of my skin, or hair, or name,” she wrote in one of her notes in The New York Times. However, this confession did not save the author from accusations of cultural appropriation.
"Traumatic porn, covered with a fig leaf of social justice" - this is how the American writer of Mexican origin Miriam Gurba described the book. She was one of the first to write a devastating review of American Dirt. "Despite the fact that Lydia is a woman engaged in intellectual work and the wife of a reporter whose topic is drug trafficking, she experiences shock after shock when faced with the realities of Mexico, realities that would not shock a Mexican." This blog post about the novel went viral after the book was released. Because of him, Gurba began to receive insults and threats. However, the reviewer was supported by other writers.
“It's not that we think that only Latin American writers can write books on Latin themes. No, it's not censorship. A talented writer who works hard can create compelling, powerful literary works about other cultures. This is called art. "American dirt is not art," wrote nine-book author Daniel Olivas in The Guardian.
"The clumsy use of the Spanish language is like writing through Google Translate," says poet David Bowles.
Photos from the presentation of the novel at one of the events organized by the publishing house added fuel to the fire. On it, guest books were wrapped in barbed wire, making a reference to the novel's cover. Many considered such decorations inappropriate.
In addition, during the promotional campaign for the book, it was said many times that Cummins' husband was also illegal. However, the publishing house forgot to clarify that he came from Ireland. Flatiron Books later had to issue an official apology statement for their punctures.
Don't forget about the matching manicure. Never knew barbed wire could look "prettier"! #AmericanDirt pic.twitter.com/TKYkmMEjD2- AmyVictoriaBlakemore (@AmyV_Blakemore) January 22, 2020
"Cancellation of culture"
However, there were also those who found the attacks on Cummins strange, especially against the background of the discussion about fiction.
“In fact, the author’s emphatic leftist position made Cummins such an easy target,” writes New York Post columnist Carol Markovich. “She (the author) wanted social justice. But the message from her fellow equal rights activists is to drop it. you're getting social justice wrong, so you get canceled. "
The Hill adheres to the same position. "You don't need fire to burn books in 2020. A raging mob of social justice fighters is enough to be fueled by authors unwilling to oppose censorship."
Critics of political correctness call calls to boycott certain works "the abolition of culture" and speak negatively of artists and public figures who are struggling to comply with generally accepted norms. “The crowd wants to dictate who will tell the stories and from what angle,” writes The Hill columnist Christian Toto.
Cummins herself was rather restrained in answering criticism. “I really think that talking about cultural appropriation is incredibly important, but I also think that sometimes there is a danger of going too far trying to silence people,” she said.
The American Dirt situation has sparked a serious debate about who should write books about migrants at all. Can an author who misretells the tragic stories of others receive such large royalties from publishers and media attention? Some of those who initially praised the novel later changed their minds. The same Oprah, who included "American Dirt" in her book club, later said that she was quick to assess and that the novel requires more detailed discussion. For the publication of a photo with a book on Instagram, Hollywood actress Salma Hayek also had to apologize.
“The crux of the problem is that American Dirt is not a Mexican migrant story at all. It is an American rights story that never challenges the gross injustice in geography of birth that determines opportunities in life. American Dirt is an accurate depiction. that the Americans are demanding that Mexicans and people with a different skin color suffer for the opportunity to get to this country, "- said the writer Rafia Zakaria.
Since the release of the novel on January 21, about 50 thousand copies have already been sold. American Dirt is currently at the top of The New York Times bestseller list. Reviews from regular readers on sites like Goodreads and Book Marks are overwhelmingly positive. According to The Hollywood Reporter, "American Dirt" is already going to be filmed by Imperative Entertainment, and Charles Leavitt, screenwriter of the movie "Blood Diamond", is working on the plot of the film.