Review of American Dirt, by Jeanine Cummins
There is so much painful irony embedded in the idea that the borders of wealthy Western nations are under siege from illegal migration.
For Australia and the United States in particular, the ironies abound. Both nations were taken forcefully from their indigenous inhabitants, and both have become expert at ignoring the roles they play in creating the so-called migration crisis looming at their borders.
From the comfort and safety of most Australian suburbs, random acts of mass killing are so far removed from everyday experience that it’s impossible to imagine such an abomination being visited upon your family as anything other an act of random chaos.
Try to imagine a world in which such violence is a weekly occurrence. Now imagine the police are no help to you — because they are corrupt and on the payroll of the murderers.
Thus starts Jeanine Cummins’ gut-punching novel American Dirt, a book that puts names and faces to people so often demonised by Western political leaders as queue jumpers and ravenous hoards, but who all too often are desperate people running from the gravest of atrocities.
This is a book that poses a question too few of us dare ask ourselves: are we really civilised nations who turn our backs on such people?
American Dirt stares long and hard at the horror of Mexican drug cartels and the ways in which their power and money subverts law and decency, leaving no-one safe or beyond their reach.
It seeks to light a flame inside a moral vacuum, because such horrors are not external to us; they are bought and paid for by us.
The drug cartels are our creations. The money that spawns rivers of blood and turns young boys into murderous rapists is ours too. No arbitrary line in the sand absolves us of that responsibility.
There is so much pain in this novel, but there is also great hope and love and there are remarkable acts of kindness. It affirms that treasures such as these may long remain in greater abundance beyond our borders.
American Dirt is a powerful accomplishment.