Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Suddenly It's not Politically Correct to Read "American Dirt"


As I mentioned in previous posts about Jeanine Cummins’ American Dirt, I still haven’t gotten my hands on a copy of what has become a rather controversial novel. As of this date, in fact, I’m still number thirty-eight on my library’s hold list, exactly where I was a few days ago when I was suddenly bumped back eight spaces on the list. But only three days after my enquiry as to how that could happen I was back at number thirty-eight, making me wonder if the line-jumpers have now been placed back at the end of the line - where they should have been in the first place. Never, of course, will the truth be known.

I’m more interested than ever in reading American Dirt because of all the controversy the book has generated, and what I think is the unwarranted criticism it has suffered since publication. Immediately after publication, American Dirt seemed certain to dominate the bestseller lists for a long time. Oprah Winfrey gave it her blessing, the Hollywood clique gave its gushing (with that crowd it’s either gush or rant, nothing in between) approval, and the novel was generally being hailed as a real eye-opener, a game-changer even, in the politically charged open-border argument. And then some of those same people were saying the exact opposite about the book while throwing around words and phrases like “cultural appropriation,” “stereotypes,” and “melodramatic.”

Jeanine Cummins
I believe that the criticism has more to do with political correctness and peer-intimidation than it does with the quality of the book. The author’s writing is being ripped apart, many admit, because as a “white person and a Puerto Rican,” Cummins has dared to write a heartfelt novel about Mexicans who attempt to cross the southern border of the United States illegally. That genius Salma Hayek has even apologized about her initial praise of the book, in the process exposing the fact that she didn’t even bother to read it before praising it. In other words, Hayek just went along with the crowd and fully expected her Hollywood buds to award her a few brownie points for her efforts. Then the buzz did its 180 degree turn and the genius decided that she’d best go along with where the crowd was now going. Brilliant, just brilliant, Salma.

The book still, I’m happy to see, has its defenders, among them one of my favorite authors, Ann Patchett. In Patchett’s estimation, all of this sudden criticism may have more to do with “sexism than concerns about the author stepping into a culture and identity she doesn’t understand.” Patchett told the Los Angeles Times that “There’s a level of viciousness that comes from a woman getting a big advance and a lot of attention. If it had been a small advance with a small review in the back of the book section, I don’t think we’d be seeing the same level of outrage.”

Jeanine Cummins herself, at least to this point, has been relatively silent about the nasty criticism. It will be interesting to see how the whining impacts sales of the book in the long run because this kind of thing often backfires on those doing the criticizing or boycotting. Only time will tell.

As for me, I’m hoping that the book does well. It is about a middle-class Mexican woman and her young son who are desperate to escape the drug cartel members who killed her journalist husband in revenge for the articles he was writing about the cartel. Her best hope is to escape into the United States. This is a very pro-immigrant book, and the politically correct whining it has generated caught me by surprise. If the critics don’t like what this “white Puerto Rican” has written and how she has portrayed their culture, let’s see them do it better. I’ll be happy to read their books, too, but I’m not going to play their kill American Dirt game.

8 comments:

  1. You make me want to read this book just to support the author against all the stupid naysayers.

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    1. I suspect that the backlash against the criticism she is receiving is going to sell a whole lot of books for her. I hope so, anyway.

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  2. Yes, there will be a backlash and sales will sky-rocket. They say there's no such thing as bad publicity. I read your post shaking my head in disgust. I don't know the book or the author but the whole pc attitude of celebrities, commentators, whatever you call them, just makes me fume. Hypocrites the lot of them.

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    1. The whole way this has happened really exposes the hypocrisy of her critics. Apparently, they were eager to jump on the pro-book bandwagon when it was politically correct to do so - and most of them hadn't even read the book becore lavishing praise on it.

      Now they are just as eager to hang the woman from the nearest tree as they were to praise her. Hypocrites...the lot of them.

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    1. I was at the library this morning, Nan, and stopped by the circulation desk again to see if they would consider ordering additional copies of the book. It seems that they already have. Something close to ten more copies, in fact. So the backlash against the backlash is turning positive for the author already. That's probably why she has been relatively silent about all the name-calling and blacklisting she's been putting up with this last few weeks.

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  4. It's turning into quite the controversy, hasn't it? I was on the fence about reading the book anyway, and I don't know if the brouhaha makes me more or less likely to read it now. I think I'll wait until the hubbub dies down and then see what I think. Bonus: the longer I wait to read it, the shorter the waitlist at the library will be :)

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    1. I was disappointed this afternoon to learn that a Houston bookstore just cancelled her February 3 appearance because they got nervous about the ugliness that might happen in their store. This is just all so silly...who knew that the book community was capable of this kind of nastiness?

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