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Chapter 16 - American Dirt


The Bookends Book Club read American Dirt for our April book. We got creative and had a discussion via Zoom as, sadly, we could not get together in person. All in attendance liked the book, thought it was well written, and that the author put a different spin on the southern border migration problem.

The story centers around Lydia Quixano Pérez, a middle class bookstore owner in Acapulco, Mexico. She lives in a nice apartment with her husband, Sebastian, a journalist, and their 8 year old son Luca. One of her customers, a man named Javier, becomes a good friend until the day Sebastian tells Lydia that he is the head of a local, violent cartel. Then, much to Javier's dismay, Lydia distances herself from him. Sebastian writes an expose' on Javier which is when the trouble begins.

The controversy around the book seems to come from concerns that Jeanine Cummins, the author, is not Latina or an immigrant so is not "qualified" to write the book. Other criticisms include that Cummins received a six-figure advance for the book and a Latinx author would never have received that much money. The controversy in January, when the book was published, was so strong that over 140 authors requested that Oprah, who had listed it as her book club recommendation in January, rescind the designation. She did not. As of the today, American Dirt was #4 on the best seller list and has been on the list for 12 weeks.

I started to think about other books written by authors who could have not experiential knowledge of their subject. Here are some of my favorites.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden - This exceptional and well researched book by Golden was a hit in both book and movie versions. Arthur Golden wrote in first person perspective, tells the story of a fictional geisha working in Kyoto, Japan, before, during and after World War II and ends with her being relocated to New York City.

Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe - Stowe wrote this anti-slavery novel in 1852 and it had a significant impact on the way people saw slavery. With no experiential knowledge of her subject, Harriet Beecher Stowe helped forge a path to the resistance of slavery and many historians believe that she ignited the fire of the Civil War.

City of Women by David Gillham - With her husband away at war, Sigrid Schröder is the model German soldier's wife as she works and takes care of her difficult mother-in-law in war torn Berlin. Her life changes when she meets and falls in love with a Jewish man in hiding. I'm pretty sure David Gillham wasn't there!

The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith - Tom Ripley is the ultimate bad boy, a forger and con man, who is hired to bring his former classmate Dickie Greenleaf home from Italy. After finding Dickie, he then conspires to take over Dickie's life.

The Alex Cross series by James Patterson - Patterson writes about a black, DC investigative psychologist in this series. The books start with Along Came a Spider introducing Cross, his family and friends and has led to an amazing 24 books with another due to come out in November. Patterson is, of course, a Caucasian originally from New York.

Can you think of any other books where the protagonist is a different gender, race, or where the author could have no experiential knowledge of what it is like to be that protagonist? Let me know.

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