She was a 2015-2016 Fulbright Fellow in Oaxaca, Mexico, and a 2019 Creative Nonfiction Writing Fellow. • American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins is published by Headline (£14.99). This is the international story of our times. “ American Dirt,” a new novel by Jeanine Cummins, has been positioned as a breakout hit of the year. Well-meaning critics of a novel about a mother and son fleeing a cartel in Mexico have missed the point: is it any good? In the New York Times, a white reviewer agonised over whether it was her place to review such a book at all. Masterful.”—Sandra CisnerosTambién de este lado hay sueños. But American Dirt is a novel, and a thriller at that, so the angst over the accuracy of its portrayal, rather than whether the world feels authentic, seems misplaced and forced. Book Summary. Cummins received a seven-figure advance for this book. #1 New York Times Bestseller OPRAH’S BOOK CLUB PICK“Extraordinary.”—Stephen King“This book is not simply the great American novel; it’s the great novel of las Americas. opens this propulsive novel with a massacre. In December, the writer Myriam Gurba wrote that Cummins had “identified the gringo appetite for Mexican pain and found a way to exploit it.” Another writer, David Bowles, wrote that the book’s reception was “especially harmful because authentic stories by Mexicanas and Chicanas are either passed over or published to significantly less fanfare.” In an apparent attempt to preempt criticism, Cummins tacked on a tortured afterword to the book, in which she conceded, “I wished someone slightly browner than me would write it.”. She was brought in because she is the author of Fates and Furies, a mega-bestseller that was Barack Obama’s favorite novel of 2015. The answers to these questions begin with the publisher’s acquisition of American Dirt. Elin Hilderbrand, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Summer of '69 Review "Urgent and unforgettable, American Dirt leaps the borders of the page and demands attention, especially now." Reviewed in the United States on January 22, 2020 Jeanine Cummins' American Dirt, a novel about a Mexican bookseller who has to escape cartel-related violence with her son, fleeing to the US. The bar has been lowered for books that make up an entire genre of publishing, a sort of instant noodles offering for different tastes – just add water and the components will fatten up into a cheap approximation of the real thing. AMERICAN DIRT by Jeanine Cummins ‧ RELEASE DATE: Jan. 21, 2020 This terrifying and tender novel is a blunt answer to the question of why immigrants from Latin America cross the U.S. border—and a testimony to the courage it takes to do it. The marketing campaign worked. Needless to say, both the Review and the publishing industry writ large have a blind spot when it comes to books about nonwhite characters. Does the writer, Jeanine Cummins (whose grandmother is Puerto Rican but who has identified as white) have the right (or the ability) to portray an authentic Mexican story? “American Dirt,” published last week, is a fast-paced novel about a mother-and-son pair of migrants on the run from murderous drug lords. American Dirt opens with the sudden violent intrusion of the unthinkable into the mundane. Tales of non-white identity must be founded in the most reductive non-whiteness, told without nuance, curiosity or interest in examining what lies behind such experiences. Once one cuts through the noise and actually reads the book, what becomes clear is that the problem isn’t that Cummins wrote a story that wasn’t hers to tell, but that she told it poorly – in all the classic ways a story is badly told. But then, on Sunday morning, The New York Times Book Review published a review of the same book by Lauren Groff. "American Dirt," a novel that is Oprah Winfrey's latest book club pick, has sparked a bitter controversy over its author's identity and portrayal of Mexican migrants. Groff’s review is so odd because it’s caught between these two narratives. Money is poured into novels such as American Dirt at the expense of other works that tell stories about Mexicans or migrants that are more accurate, more nuanced but most importantly, far more interesting to a reader who the shallow world of publishing assumes is chronically unsophisticated. This well-meaning nonsense got us, the readers, nowhere. Groff’s byline was meant to signal to readers that American Dirt is also a big novel—the Review was just doing its part in the hype cycle. A story about Muslim women must be one of escape from “behind the veil”. I was further sunk into anxiety when I discovered that, although Cummins does have a personal stake in stories of migration, she herself is neither Mexican nor a migrant. “From the first sentence, I was IN.… Like so many of us, I’ve read newspaper articles and watched television news stories and seen movies about the plight of families looking for a better life, but this story changed the way I see what it means to be a migrant in a whole new way,” Winfrey tweeted. Groff demanded that the Times delete the tweet, which it did. If it were a work of nonfiction, all these questions about identity, access and the problematic “white gaze” as Groff called it, become more relevant. This is the international story of our times. “I wrestled like a beast with this review, the morals of my taking it on, my complicity in the white gaze.”. And the inability to appraise the book on its own merit as literature and, most importantly, as entertainment was certainly made worse by the fanfare that preceded its release. Her work has been featured in Harper’s, Pacific Standard, The Guardian, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, Guernica, Oxford American, The Kenyon Review, The Paris Review Daily, and elsewhere. History. Two-dimensional characters, tortured sentences, an attempt to cover the saga of a migrant without even addressing the wider context of migration or inequality. Alex Shephard is a staff writer at The New Republic. In contemporary literary circles, there is a serious and legitimate sensitivity to people writing about heritages that are not their own because, at its worst, this practice perpetuates the evils of colonization, stealing the stories of oppressed people for the profit of the dominant. The New York Times had it reviewed twice — once in the daily paper, once in the weekly Book Review — in addition to interviewing the author and publishing an excerpt from the novel. Should Cummins have written the book? (Look no further than Flatiron’s release party for American Dirt, which featured barbed-wire decorative pieces on the tables. While the Mexican bookseller Lydia (most often … American Dirt debuted on New York Times best sellers list as the #1 on the list for the week of February 9, 2020. Cultural appropriation as a criticism often creeps into the debate when the work that is being accused of doing so simply isn’t very good. Really!) Before the slaughter, Lydia Quixano Pérez is a bookseller in Acapulco, mother to Luca and wife to journalist Sebastián. Last modified on Mon 3 Feb 2020 09.40 EST. As the criticism mounted, American Dirt’s publisher cancelled the author’s book tour last week. American Dirt is the first book to ever score a perfect 5-stars in BookBrowse's early reader program, First Impressions--and we've reviewed more than 600 books to date! The fallout over "American Dirt" reveals the publishing industry's biases and blind spots. She was not assigned American Dirt to wrestle with questions of whether white people can write about brown people. American Dirt is going to be the defining book of 2020.” ―New York Journal of Books “Propulsive.” ―Elle The book was hailed by John Grisham and Stephen King as a perfect thriller, and in the lead-up to its publication there were profiles of Cummins in the usual newspapers and glossy magazines, heralding the year’s first blockbuster novel. Clearly this was not what Groff or the Times Book Review signed up for. Lauren Groff’s review of American Dirt, Jeanine Cummins’s new novel about a mother and son fleeing cartel violence in Mexico, is one of the odder articles that The New York Times Book Review has published in recent memory. Hailed as "a Grapes of Wrath for our times" and "a new American classic", American Dirt is a rare exploration into the inner hearts of people willing to sacrifice everything for a glimmer of hope. American Dirt, a novel about a mother and son fleeing a drugs cartel in Mexico, has the literary world clutching its pearls. Despite the claims that white authors are savaged by philistines who cry cultural appropriation at every juncture, the reality is that non-white authors are the primary victims of the publishing world’s habit of catering to cliched taste, forcing them into topical ghettoes. The problem is that publishers, broadly, are only interested in such stories when the protagonists are flat-pack characters that can be assembled quickly into a neat stereotype that fits comfortably into the white, mainstream readers’ worldview. Sometimes, allies can be more harmful than enemies. Because here’s the real issue. Yesterday, Lydia had a bookshop. In response, the publisher released a statement that disingenuously addressed the question of “who gets to tell which stories”, rather than engaging with the more complicated and uncomfortable question of how these stories are told and marketed in the first place. Cummins, whose grandmother is Puerto Rican but who identified as white as recently as 2016, was accused of appropriating and sensationalizing the migrant crisis. It’s the great world novel! It is Sebastián’s exposé on the kingpin, who also happens to be a frequent customer of Lydia’s bookstore, that serves as the linchpin for the violence that sets off t… “Perhaps this book is an act of cultural imperialism; at the same time, weeks after finishing it, the novel remains alive in me,” she writes. The main hysteria in this episode has been on the part of white opponents of the book whose heart may be in the right place, but who are also guilty of believing that only a migrant can write a migrant’s experience, and by extension that a migrant can only write a migrant’s experience. It is harder to defend the book against other allegations of “trauma porn”, when decorative barbed-wire centrepieces adorned its promo events and the author herself posted an image of her “next level awesome!” barbed-wire manicure to match the book’s cover. In 2015 the Writing the Future report found that the “best chance of publication” for a black, Asian or minority ethnic writer was down the route of literary fiction that confirms the stereotype on themes such as “racism, colonialism or post-colonialism, as if these were the primary concerns of all BAME people”, said report editor Danuta Kean. “I could never speak to the accuracy of the book’s representation of Mexican culture or the plights of migrants; I have never been Mexican or a migrant,” Lauren Groff wrote. It needed a better one. The New Yorker Recommends is where our critics, staff, and contributors share their enthusiasms. On the one hand, she writes that it is a pitch-perfect thriller, causing her to pace the house, anxious about the fates of Cummins’s characters. On the other, she laments its “shallowness”—how the very elements that make it a good thriller prevent it from saying anything worthwhile about the situation at the southern border. American Dirt, a novel about a mother and son fleeing a drugs cartel in Mexico, has the. Hollywood snapped up the film rights before a single copy was sold. An 8-year-old boy named Luca is standing before the toilet in his grandmother's house in … Groff’s public turn in a hair shirt raised several questions: Did she change her opinions in deference to political correctness? Groff then quasi-renounced the review: “I give up,” she tweeted. This is a long-standing problem for the Review, which is more an industry tip sheet than a venue for serious criticism. "American Dirt," the new novel by Jeanine Cummins, traces the journey a mother and son make to the US, after a cartel kills their family in a massacre at a quinceañera. The Dirt on American Dirt Published 11 months ago by Donna Miscolta When a novelist identifies as white until she writes a book about Mexican migrants in order to give a face to the “faceless brown mass” at the border, trouble follows, dirt is raised, caca is thrown. Described as 'A Grapes of Wrath for our times' (Don Winslow) it is a story that will leave you utterly changed. But the manufactured hype was accompanied by a grassroots backlash. Inevitably, that led the book’s supporters to collapse the backlash into just another episode of PC hysteria. Visit her website at The critical coup de grâce came when The New York Times’ own Parul Sehgal eviscerated the book on both moral and literary grounds: In American Dirt, the “deep roots of these forced migrations are never interrogated; the American reader can read without fear of uncomfortable self-reproach,” she wrote. It arrived, according to another review, “on a gust of rapturous and demented praise”. She doesn’t know! The background of the author, something that should have been an irrelevant matter, became the focal point of reviews. To her horror, she discovers that the writer herself is not Mexican nor a migrant. "But," continued Ms Cummins, a … I’m also confident that nearly every reader has at least a basic idea of the synopsis of American Dirt. But American Dirt is a novel, and a thriller at that, so the angst over the accuracy of its portrayal, rather than whether the world feels authentic, seems misplaced and forced. American Dirtfollows the journey of a mother and son fleeing Mexico for America after their entire family is murdered on the orders of a local cartel kingpin. Masterful. I could never speak to the accuracy of the book’s representation of Mexican culture or the plights of migrants; I have never been Mexican or a migrant. "—Stephen King"This book is not simply the great American novel; it's the great novel of las Americas. In an author's note for her hit new novel American Dirt, Jeanine Cummins says she wished "someone slightly browner than me" had written it. Free UK p&p over £15 Follow her on Instagram @familiasantiago. I am a white woman, living in upstate New York, thousands of miles from Mexico. Should she have reviewed it? So, I’m not really touching either of those elements in my review. Released in January, it is about a Mexican mother and her young son who must flee … The majority of its fiction reviewers are novelists, not professional critics, and they tend to review books with professional restraint—partly out of the sympathy that comes from toiling in the same industry and partly out of the knowledge that the situation could someday be reversed. And why didn’t Groff or Paul see this disaster coming a mile away? Heat​her Sten/The New York Times/Redux Lauren Groff’s review of American Dirt, Jeanine Cummins’s new novel about a mother and son fleeing cartel violence in … Dirt Candy is a vegetarian restaurant in the Lower East Side neighborhood of Manhattan in New York City. In an unusual decision, the New York Times ran separate reviews of the book both in the daily paper and in the weekly book review section, as well as publishing an excerpt. No wonder the book was so popular with publishers. It was all too little, too late: It is amazing, looking at Groff’s panicked reaction now, that they realized this would be a problem only when the criticism of the book reached a fever pitch. • Nesrine Malik is a Guardian columnist and the author of We Need New Stories: Challenging the Toxic Myths Behind Our Age of Discontent, 'It's unprecedented': how bookstores are handling the American Dirt controversy. About The New Yorker Recommends. Chef and owner Amanda Cohen opened the restaurant in a small East Village space in 2008, and moved to its present location in 2015. I haven’t yet read American Dirt and in any case, I don’t know enough about Mexico or migrants to judge if it’s accurate. It is rumoured that the publishers paid a seven-figure sum for the book. It's the great world novel! And it's harmful, … For all of its pedigree, the Review is a safe, staid publication, one that is firmly embedded in the publishing establishment. It has received critical attention for its creative dishes which often focus on a single vegetable. Newsletter. ‘A smash hit story about Mexicans must be about cartels and migrants.’ Author Jeanine Cummins (second left) with Oprah Winfrey and hosts of CBS This Morning, January 2020. ometimes, allies can be more harmful than enemies. The problem? Why did she agree to the review in the first place, if she was so clearly uncomfortable putting her byline on it? Combine that with an almost comic fear of being canceled, and you get Groff flagellating herself in the pages of the country’s most prominent book review. American Dirt’s author, Jeanine Cummins, identifies herself as white and Latina. Pamela Paul, the editor of the Book Review, explained that Groff had revised her piece, seemingly at the last minute—and seemingly once she got wind that a backlash was brewing against American Dirt. It is less a work of criticism than a lengthy self-examination, with Groff, who is white, agonizing about whether it is even appropriate for her to review the book: I was sure I was the wrong person to review this book. #1 New York Times Bestseller OPRAH'S BOOK CLUB PICK"Extraordinary. Cummins (The Crooked Branch, 2013, etc.) The quality of writing does not matter; all the skill and subtlety that goes into a writer’s craft does not matter. Things took a stranger turn when, shortly after the review was published, the Times tweeted a pull quote: “American Dirt is one of the most wrenching books I have read in a few years, with the ferocity and political reach of the best of Theodore Dreiser’s novels.” There was one problem: That sentence did not appear in the review itself. "As literature, American Dirt is modern realism at its finest: a tale of moral challenge in the spirit of Theodore Dreiser wrapped inside a big-hearted social epic like The Grapes of Wrath. Read more about book reviews from The New Yorker . A few pages into reading Jeanine Cummins’s third novel, “ American Dirt,” I found myself so terrified that I had to pace my house. American Dirt, the much discussed new novel from the author Jeanine Cummins, opens with a perfunctory slaughter. A movie deal, involving the producers of The Mule and the writer of Blood Diamond, followed a year later. And for good reason. Vivid, visceral, utterly compelling, American Dirt is the first novel to explore the experience of attempting to illegally cross the US-Mexico border. Groff doesn’t know. Thus, a smash-hit story about Mexicans must be about cartels and migrants and tortured brown faces on the lookout for the deliverance of a border. The outrage has focused on Cummins, who is of mixed Irish and Puerto Rican heritage, … To order a copy go to guardianbookshop.com or call 020-3176 3837. On Tuesday, the book’s publication day, Oprah Winfrey announced that American Dirt had been selected for her coveted Book Club, guaranteeing it would become a bestseller. The book concerned is American Dirt, by New York writer Jeanine Cummins. Yesterday, Lydia was married to a journalist. Hype for the book began building as soon as it was bought by Flatiron for a seven-figure advance in 2018. The writer herself caveated her book by saying that “I wished someone slightly browner than me would write it.” The less controversial fact is that American Dirt didn’t need a browner writer to save it from the opprobrium. The question that a review answers is simply, is the book any good? It didn’t mollify anyone. 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