2020 Macmillan Audio
Narrated by Yareli Arizmendi
Finished on December 14, 202
Rating: 5/5 (Outstanding)
También de este lado hay sueños. On this side, too, there are dreams.
Lydia Quixano Pérez lives in the Mexican city of Acapulco. She runs a bookstore. She has a son, Luca, the love of her life, and a wonderful husband who is a journalist. And while there are cracks beginning to show in Acapulco because of the drug cartels, her life is, by and large, fairly comfortable.
Even though she knows they’ll never sell, Lydia stocks some of her all-time favorite books in her store. And then one day a man enters the shop to browse and comes up to the register with a few books he would like to buy—two of them her favorites. Javier is erudite. He is charming. And, unbeknownst to Lydia, he is the jefe of the newest drug cartel that has gruesomely taken over the city. When Lydia’s husband’s tell-all profile of Javier is published, none of their lives will ever be the same.
Forced to flee, Lydia and eight-year-old Luca soon find themselves miles and worlds away from their comfortable middle-class existence. Instantly transformed into migrants, Lydia and Luca ride la bestia—trains that make their way north toward the United States, which is the only place Javier’s reach doesn’t extend. As they join the countless people trying to reach el norte, Lydia soon sees that everyone is running from something. But what exactly are they running to?
In late 2019, I started seeing several early reviews for American Dirt and thought it sounded like a good selection for my book group, so I nominated it and it was chosen for our December read. Shortly after we voted, I began to see a lot of negative press about the novel and wondered if I had made a mistake choosing something I hadn't yet read. However, I decided not to withdraw my recommendation, since the controversy might add to our discussion (which it did!). I also decided to avoid further reviews (positive and negative) in an effort to remain as unbiased as possible as I read Cummins' story.
I started listening to the unabridged audio in mid-November and was immediately drawn into Lydia and Luca's story from the opening paragraph. Yareli Arizmendi (a Mexican actress, writer and director) gives an outstanding performance and the chilling details of the dangerous situations the migrants encountered made my pulse race. The characters are authentic, the dialogue rings true and I became emotionally attached to not only Lydia and Luca, but Soledad, Rebecca and Beto. My emotions were all over the place and while I don't remember much humor (which would have added some levity to this intense and heart-pounding drama), my heartstrings were tugged more than once and I found myself choking back a few sobs as I listened to the final chapters.
While some may say this is simply a thriller with a migrant story backdrop, I believe it's a powerful and essential read, one which puts a face on the migrant story, depicting the desperation and terror they experience as they flee their own countries for, hopefully, a better life in the United States. I also believe that it's a well-written and well-researched novel and I disagree with the strong backlash from some advocates of the #ownvoices movement who claim the author should not have written the book since she isn't Mexican, nor did she share Lydia's experiences as a migrant. Scrolling through the reviews on Goodreads, it appears that this is a book that people either loved or hated. I'm in the loved camp. Highly recommend, especially on audio.
"Narrator Yareli Arizmendi illuminates the humanity and individuality of Latin American migrants as they flee toward refuge in the North.... The account of Lydia and Luca's travails, including terrifying rides atop Mexico's freight trains, is utterly compelling. But it is Arizmendi's voicing of Lydia, so full of fierce tenderness, that will stay with listeners after the story's close." (AudioFile Magazine)