Salisbury Press

Tuesday, April 7, 2020
EDITOR’S VIEW EDITOR’S VIEW
Jeanine Cummins Jeanine Cummins

EDITOR’S VIEW

Wednesday, February 19, 2020 by The Press in Opinion

‘American Dirt’ – a tale of controversy

“American Dirt” is the latest controversy sweeping the nation.

As if we don’t have enough controversy.

This controversy is about a new novel written by Jeanine Cummins and published by Flatiron Books.

This is a piece of fiction.

The story is about Lydia Quizano Pérez, who lives in Acapulco, Mexico, with her husband, a journalist, and their 8-year-old son. She runs a bookstore.

As the drug cartels take over the city, Lydia’s husband writes a tell-all profile of the newest drug cartel leader.

The story follows Lydia and her son as they flee the country for their safety.

This book has positive reviews from authors Stephen King, Sandra Cisneros, Don Winslow, Ann Patchett, John Grisham, Erika Sánchez, Julia Alvarez and Kristin Hannah.

“Its plot is tight, smart and unpredictable. Its message is important and timely, but not political,” Grisham writes.

“I defy anyone to read the first seven pages of this book and not finish it,” King writes.

Barnes & Noble Inc. announced “American Dirt” as the February 2020 selection for the Barnes & Noble Book Club, a monthly book club designed to bring readers in communities across the country together to discuss the most compelling books.

Oprah Winfrey has chosen “American Dirt” as her book club pick.

Independent bookstores made it their No. 1 choice for February.

The book has also received some negative feedback from critics, who have stated Cummins writes about a Mexican family when, in 2016, she identified as “white.” Cummins has responded by saying she has a Puerto Rican grandmother and her husband was an undocumented immigrant from Ireland.

Bob Miller, president and publisher of Flatiron Books, officially canceled the rest of the book tour Jan. 29, citing Cummins’ safety.

“We were surprised by the anger that has emerged from members of the Latinx and publishing communities,” Miller said.

“We should never have claimed that it was a novel that defined the migrant experience; we should not have said that Jeanine’s husband was an undocumented immigrant while not specifying that he was from Ireland ...

“Simply put, we wish to listen, learn and do better ... Jeanine Cummins spent five years of her life writing this book with the intent to shine a spotlight on tragedies facing immigrants. For that reason, it’s unfortunate that she is the recipient of hatred from the very communities she sought to honor.

“We are saddened that a work of fiction that was well-intentioned has led to such vitriolic rancor. While there are valid criticisms around our promotion of this book, that is no excuse for the fact that, in some cases, there have been threats of physical violence,” Miller said, adding concerns of safety led to the decision to cancel the book tour.

“Based on specific threats to booksellers and the author, we believe there exists real peril to their safety,” Miller said.

Miller said they will be scheduling a series of town hall meetings, where the author will be joined by some of the groups that have raised objections to the book.

It took me about a week to find the book. After Winfrey announced her book club choice, booksellers were sold out.

The book makes me feel uncomfortable as a white person but has opened my eyes — and it is a good read.

Several points hit home for me in regard to this novel: a mother will do anything to keep her child safe, a journalist took a stand and suffered the consequences and a woman who is white is criticized as not being qualified to write a fictional story about a Mexican family.

Oprah posted a two-minute video to the Oprah’s Book Club Instagram, announcing she spoke with members of the Latinx community about their concerns with “American Dirt” and will air an Apple TV+ event in March to “bring people together from all sides to talk about this book, and who gets to publish what stories. I’m hoping that that is going to resonate with many of you and your concerns.”

Barnes & Noble is selling a special, exclusive book club edition of “American Dirt” as well as hosting a free book club night for customers to discuss the novel in stores across the country 7 p.m. March 10.

“I’m thrilled that Barnes & Noble has chosen ‘American Dirt’ for their book club,” Cummins said. “This story came about because I felt there was a dueling narrative about migrants from each side of the political spectrum where the actual people involved were forgotten. I wanted to write a novel to hopefully start a new conversation about migrants as human beings and so I am delighted to know that book clubs around the country will be discussing ‘American Dirt.’ I hope it generates lots of conversation, and I can’t wait to hear the discussions.”

What a sad state of affairs when instead of rejoicing in having her novel chosen for book clubs and receiving positive reviews from well-known authors, her book tour is canceled due to threats of physical violence.

In this current divide in our nation, there is no compromise, no attempt to see the other side. If people do not agree with something, they use social media to issue threats and attempt to damage a reputation.

I am not surprised, but I will never accept this as appropriate behavior.

Debbie Galbraith

editor

East Penn Press

Salisbury Press