To Stand Still Is To Die: A New Novel Follows Migrants To ‘American Dirt’
by Jeanine Cummins
Hardcover, 400 pages | purchase
Buy Featured Book
Your purchase helps support NPR programming. How ?
It was over a year ago that I began to hear off-the-charts recommendations from trusted booksellers about a novel called American Dirt, by Jeanine Cummins. The fresh ‘s circle of admirers has since swelled to include the likes of Stephen King, Sandra Cisneros, John Grisham and Julia Alvarez. such a disparate line-up of endorsement signals what an unusual creature american Dirt is : It ‘s a literary novel, to be sure, with nuanced character development and check language ; even, its narrative hurtles forward with the volume of a suspense fib. American Dirt ‘s most profound accomplishment, though, is something I never could ‘ve been told about nor anticipate. Of all the “ What if ? ” novels I ‘ve read in recent years — many of them dystopian — american english Dirt is the fresh that, for me, nails what it ‘s like to live in this age of anxiety, where it feels like anything can happen, at any moment. American Dirt opens with the sudden crimson intrusion of the unthinkable into the everyday. An 8-year-old boy named Luca is standing before the toilet in his grandma ‘s house in Acapulco when a bullet — one of what sounds like hundreds — flies through the open windowpane. A second late, Luca ‘s mother, Lydia, runs in and shoves him rigorous against the tile wall of a partially enclosed shower stall. The pair hold their breath as a gunman enters. Without glancing into the shower, he pees and leaves.
outside, the corpses of 16 syndicate members are scattered around the backyard ; they ‘d gathered earlier that day for a quinceañera, a fifteenth birthday celebration. Among the dead is Sebastián, a journalist, who was Lydia ‘s husband and Luca ‘s forefather. It was Sebastián ‘s exposé of a trust head nicknamed La Lechuza that sparked this mass murder. For the rest of the novel, Lydia will scantily have time to take in her tragic losses. Cummins writes that, “ injury waits for motionlessness ” and, for Lydia, to stand calm is to die. What ensues from that hideous opening is a tense on-the-road ordeal, in which Lydia struggles to save herself and her son from the long reaches of La Lechuza by trying to cross the border to the U.S. First, however, the pair have to get to the bound from Acapulco, which is easier said than done. Mexico has become one sprawling tangle of a prison for Lydia and Luca. The cartels rule : They ‘ve paid off police, hotel desk clerks and airline ticket agents, and they maintain roadblocks on the highways between cities. The only means to travel union is to walk ( over 1,000 miles ) or to ride La Bestia, the dangerous trains on which desperate migrants cling to the crown of freight cars. With the serve of two adolescent sisters from Central America, whom they meet along the way, this middle-class mother and son learn how to jump aboard the moving freight cars and hold on tight for their lives .
Cummins does n’t spare her characters from the marauding dangers the road poses, among them kidnapping, violence and sexual ferociousness. But random acts of kindness besides abound : an outstretched hand to steady one ‘s balance atop the freight car, the endow of an erstwhile pucker crown to ward off coldness. early on in their ordeal, Lydia, who was a bookshop owner in Acapulco, is stunned to realize that what she ‘d first idea of as a disguise for her and Luca, has become a reality :
She and Luca are actual migrants. That is what they are. And that dim-witted fact, among all the early severe newly realities of her life, knocks the breath clean out of [ Lydia ‘s ] lungs. All her life she ‘s pitied those poor people. … She ‘s wondered with the sort of detach captivation of the comfortable elect how dire the conditions of their lives must be wherever they come from, that this is the better choice. … [ Lydia realize now that ] [ a ] fter all those years of watching it happen elsewhere, … Acapulco has joined the procession, … No one can stay in a barbarous, bloodstained stead.
Cummins ‘ novel brings to life the ordeal of individual migrants, who risk everything to try to cross into the U.S. But, in its largest ambitions, the novel besides captures what it ‘s like to have the companion order of things fall away and the celerity with which we humans, for better or worse, acclimatize ourselves to the abnormal. propellant and affecting, American Dirt compels readers to recognize that we ‘re all but a pace or two away from “ join [ ing ] the progress. ”