Pendeja, You Ain’t Steinbeck: My Bronca with Fake-Ass Social Justice Literature

When I tell gringos that my Mexican grandfather worked as a publicist, the news silences them.

Shocked facial expressions follow suit.

Their heads look ready to explode and I can tell they’re thinking, “In Mexico, there are PUBLICISTS?!”

I wryly grin at these fulanos and let my smile speak on my behalf. It answers, “Yes, bitch, in México, there are things to publicize such as our own fucking opinions about YOU.”

I follow in the cocky footsteps of my grandfather, Ricardo Serrano Ríos, “decano de los publicistas de Jalisco[1],” and not only do I have opinions, I bark them como itzcuintli. También soy chismosa and if you don’t have the gift of Spanglish, allow me to translate. “Chisme” means gossip. It’s my preferred art form, one I began practicing soon after my period first stained my calzones, and what’s literature, and literary criticism, if not painstakingly aestheticized chisme?

Tengo chisme. Are you ready?

A self-professed gabacha, Jeanine Cummins, wrote a book that sucks. Big time.

Her obra de caca belongs to the great American tradition of doing the following:

  1. Appropriating genius works by people of color
  2. Slapping a coat of mayonesa on them to make palatable to taste buds estados-unidenses and
  3. Repackaging them for mass racially “colorblind” consumption.

Rather than look us in the eye, many gabachos prefer to look down their noses at us. Rather than face that we are their moral and intellectual equals, they happily pity us. Pity is what inspires their sweet tooth for Mexican pain, a craving many of them hide. This denial motivates their spending habits, resulting in a preference for trauma porn that wears a social justice fig leaf. To satisfy this demand, Cummins tossed together American Dirt, a “road thriller” that wears an I’m-giving-a-voice-to-the-voiceless-masses merkin.

I learned about Dirt when an editor at a feminist magazine invited me to review it.

I accepted her offer, Dirt arrived in my mailbox, and I tossed it in my suitcase. At my tía’s house in Guadalajara, I opened the book.

Before giving me a chance to turn to chapter one, a publisher’s letter made me wince.

“The first time Jeanine and I ever talked on the phone,” the publisher gushed, “she said migrants at the Mexican border were being portrayed as a ‘faceless brown mass.’ She said she wanted to give these people a face.”

The phrase “these people” pissed me off so bad my blood became carbonated.

I looked up, at a mirror hanging on my tía’s wall.

It reflected my face.

In order to choke down Dirt, I developed a survival strategy. It required that I give myself over to the project of zealously hate-reading the book, filling its margins with phrases like “Pendeja, please.” That’s a Spanglish analogue for “Bitch, please.”

Back in Alta California, I sat at my kitchen table and penned my review. I submitted it. Waited.

After a few days, an editor responded. She wrote that though my takedown of Dirt was “spectacular,” I lacked the fame to pen something so “negative.” She offered to reconsider if I changed my wording, if I wrote “something redeeming.”

Because the nicest thing I can say about Dirt is that its pages ought to be upcycled as toilet paper, the editors hauled out the guillotine. I was notified that I’d be paid a kill fee: 30% of the $650 I was initially offered for my services.

Behold my unpublishable cruelty as it rises from the dead!

In México, busy people drink licuados. Making these beverages requires baseline skills. Drop fruit, milk, and ice into a blender and voilà: a meal on-the-go.

Unfortunately, Jeanine Cummins narco-novel, American Dirt, is a literary licuado that tastes like its title. Cummins plops overly-ripe Mexican stereotypes, among them the Latin lover, the suffering mother, and the stoic manchild, into her wannabe realist prose. Toxic heteroromanticism gives the sludge an arc and because the white gaze taints her prose, Cummins positions the United States of America as a magnetic sanctuary, a beacon toward which the story’s chronology chugs.

México: bad.

USA: good.

I pinched my metaphorical nose and read.

Cummins bombards with clichés from the get-go. Chapter One starts with assassins opening fire on a quinceañera, a fifteenth birthday party, a scene one can easily imagine President Donald Trump breathlessly conjuring at a Midwestern rally, and while Cummins’ executioners are certainly animated, their humanity remains shallow. By categorizing these characters as “the modern bogeymen of urban Mexico,” she flattens them. By invoking monsters with English names and European lineages, Cummins reveals the color of her intended audience: white. Mexicans don’t fear the bogeyman. We fear his very distant cousin, el cucuy.

Cummins employs this “landscape of carnage,” a turn of phrase which hearkens to Trump’s inaugural speech, to introduce her protagonist, the newly widowed Lydia Quixano Perez. Police descend upon Lydia’s home, now a schlocky crime scene, to pantomime investigation. Lydia doesn’t stick around. She understands what all Mexicans do, that cops and criminals play for the same team, and so she and her son Luca, the massacre’s other survivor, flee.

With their family annihilated by narcotraffickers, mother and son embark on a refugees’ journey. They head north, or, as Cummins’ often writes, to “el norte,” and italicized Spanish words like carajo, mijo, and amigo litter the prose, yielding the same effect as store-bought taco seasoning.

Through flashbacks, Cummins reveals that Lydia, “a moderately attractive but not beautiful woman,” age thirty-two, operated a bookstore. Her character soon takes absurd shape. As a protagonist, Lydia is incoherent, laughable in her contradictions. In one flashback, Sebastián, Lydia’s husband, a journalist, describes her as one of the “smartest” women he’s ever known. Nonetheless, she behaves in gallingly naïve and stupid ways. Despite being an intellectually engaged woman, and the wife of a reporter whose beat is narcotrafficking, Lydia experiences shock after shock when confronted with the realities of México, realities that would not shock a Mexican.

It shocks Lydia to learn that the mysterious and wealthy patron who frequents her bookstore flanked by “[thuggish]” bodyguards is the capo of the local drug cartel! It shocks Lydia to learn that some central Americans migrate to the United States by foot! It shocks Lydia to learn that men rape female migrants en route to the United States! It shocks Lydia to learn that Mexico City has an ice-skating rink! (This “surprise” gave me a good chuckle: I learned to ice skate in México.) That Lydia is so shocked by her own country’s day-to-day realities, realities that I’m intimate with as a Chicana living en el norte, gives the impression that Lydia might not be…a credible Mexican. In fact, she perceives her own country through the eyes of a pearl-clutching American tourist.

Susan Sontag wrote that “[a] sensibility (as distinct from an idea) is one of the hardest things to talk about” and with this challenge in mind, I assert that American Dirt fails to convey any Mexican sensibility. It aspires to be Día de los Muertos but it, instead, embodies Halloween. The proof rests in the novel’s painful humorlessness. Mexicans have over a hundred nicknames for death, most of them are playful because death is our favorite playmate, and Octavio Paz explained our unique relationship with la muerte when he wrote, “The Mexican…is familiar with death. [He] jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it. It is one of his favorite toys and his most steadfast love.” Cummins’ failure to approach death with appropriate curiosity, and humility, is what makes American Dirt a perfect read for your local self-righteous gringa book club.

Writer Alexander Chee has said that writers interested in exploring the realities of those unlike themselves should answer three questions before proceeding. These are:

“Why do you want to write from this character’s point of view?”

“Do you read writers from this community currently?”

“Why do you want to tell this story?”

The introductory letter from Cummins’s editor answers the final question. Cummins believes she’s important, and expert, enough to represent “faceless” brown people.

Step aside, Jesucristo. There’s a new savior in town. Her name is Jeanine.

Saviors terrify me, they always fuck things up, often by getting people killed, and if you don’t believe me, look closely at the first four letters of the word messiah.

To fit the messyanic bill, Cummins re-branded herself as a person of color. A glance at recent interviews shows Cummins now identifying as “Latinx,” her claim to this identity hinging on the existence of a Puerto Rican grandmother. Cummins, however, is still breaking in her Latinx-ness because four years ago, she wasn’t.

I repeat: Four years ago, Cummins was white.

“I don’t want to write about race,” Cummins wrote in a 2015 New York Times op-ed. “What I mean is, I really don’t want to write about race…I am white… I’ll never know the impotent rage of being profiled or encounter institutionalized hurdles to success because of my skin or hair or name.”

Unlike the narcos she vilifies, Cummins exudes neither grace nor flair. Instead, she bumbles with Trumpian tackiness, and a careful look at chronology reveals how she operates: opportunistically, selfishly, and parasitically. Cummins identified the gringo appetite for Mexican pain and found a way to exploit it. With her ambition in place, she shoved the “faceless” out of her way, ran for the microphone and ripped it out of our hands, deciding that her incompetent voice merited amplification.

By her own admission, Cummins lacked the qualifications to write Dirt.

And she did it anyways.

For a seven-figure sum.

A seven-figure sum.

As Bart Simpson used to say, “Ay caramba!”

Dirt isn’t Cummins’s first book. In addition to several other novels, she wrote a highly racialized true crime memoir, A Rip in Heaven. I also wrote a memoir in this genre, Mean. Mean features a budding serial killer, Tommy Jesse Martinez. In 1996, Martinez sexually assaulted several women, me included, and his final victim helped police capture him.

In the months between my sexual assault and his capture, Martinez raped, disfigured, and bludgeoned to death Sophia Castro Torres, a soft-spoken Mexican migrant who sold Mary Kay cosmetics and performed farm work. Martinez stole her green card, kept it as a trophy, and threw it in a trash can once it bored him.

Sophia’s ghost haunts me. She’s always with me, I supposed you could say she talks to me, and she has words for Cummins:

Mexicanas die en el otro lado too. Mexicanas get raped in the USA too. You know better, you know how dangerous the United States of America is, and you still chose to frame this place as a sanctuary. It’s not.

The United States of America became my grave.

Perhaps Cummins fascination with borders explains Dirt’s similarity to other works about México and migration: her novel is so similar to the works she used for research that some might say it borders on the P word. In Dirt’s acknowledgements, Cummins announces her ignorance by thanking people for “patiently teaching me things about Mexico.” She lists writers “you should read if you want to learn more about Mexico” and lists a slew of authors – Luis Alberto Urrea, Oscar Martinez, Sonia Nazario, Jennifer Clement, Aida Silva Hernandez, Rafael Alarcon, Valeria Luiselli, and Reyna Grande – contradicting her characterization of us as an illiterate horde. We not only have faces and names. Some of us have extensive bibliographies.

If Cummins had really wanted to draw attention to the assorted crises faced by Mexicans, Mexican migrants in particular, she could’ve referred readers to the primary and secondary sources she plundered. Let’s take, as an example, Across a Hundred Mountains, a novel written by Reyna Grande. At age 9, Grande entered the United States as an undocumented immigrant. She “became the first person in her family to set foot in a university,” and obtained both a B.A. and M.F.A. Her lived experience as a Mexican migrant inspires both her fiction and nonfiction and Grande writes intimately about a phenomenon Cummins has emphasized she knows nothing about: racism.

While recently attending a literary gala at the Library of Congress, a fellow writer misidentified Grande. Instead of assuming she was his peer, he treated her as a member of the waitstaff. Grande wrote about this experience, stating that “feelings of inadequacy” have persisted in spite of her success. These feelings begin early. When I was in high school, I scored better on the Advanced Placement English Language and Composition exam than all of my white classmates. Instead of celebrating my success, many teachers openly insinuated that my score was suspect. I must have cheated.

While we’re forced to contend with impostor syndrome, dilettantes who grab material, style, and even voice are lauded and rewarded.

Dirt reads like a gringa remix of Nazario’s Enrique’s Journey and a sloppy mash-up of Urrea’s entire oeuvre. His early works, Across the Wire and By the Lake of Sleeping Children, echo throughout Dirt. The book’s cringe-inducing awkwardness reminds me of the time I walked in on my roommate dressed from head to toe in my clothes. It astonished and disturbed me to find this fellow undergrad in front of our dorm room mirror, pretending to be… me. Suddenly aware of my presence, she made eye contact with me through the reflection. Unsure of what to do, I left. We never discussed the event.

She returned my clothes to the closet, but her choice to wear them as a costume had altered them. I couldn’t wear them anymore. They smelled of my roommate. Seams were torn.

My roommate and I weren’t the same size.

Cummins did the same thing as my roommate but took her audacity a step further: she stepped out in public wearing her ill-fitting Mexican costume.

Dirt is a Frankenstein of a book, a clumsy and distorted spectacle and while some white critics have compared Cummins to Steinbeck, I think a more apt comparison is to Vanilla Ice. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Imperative Entertainment, a production banner notorious for having teamed up with the likes of libertarian cowboy Clint Eastwood, has acquired the rights to the “Mexican migrant drama novel.”

Because my catastrophic imagination is highly active these days, I can visualize what this film might inspire. I can see Trump sitting in the White House’s movie theatre, his little hands reaching for popcorn as he absorbs Dirt’s screen adaptation. “This!” he yells. “This is why we must invade.” I don’t think Cummins intended to write a novel that would serve a Trumpian agenda but that’s the danger of becoming a messiah. You never know who will follow you into the promised land.

Myriam Gurba is a writer, podcaster and artist who lives in Long Beach, California. Her most recent book, the true crime memoir Mean, was a New York Times editors’ choice. Publishers Weekly describes her as a “literary voice like none other.” Gurba co-hosts the AskBiGrlz advice podcast with cartoonist, and fellow biracialist, MariNaomi. Her collage and digital artwork has been shown in museums, galleries, and community centers. Follow her on Twitter.


[1] Source: his fucking tombstone

287 thoughts

    1. I am still trying to figure out what you wrote and all words you used. Stupendous, is the word that comes to mind. Netflix has gotten me much closer to the life of México. For example, “La Reina de la Sur” series. I am actually learning to speak Spanish from the region of where my family is from: Monterrey and Reynosa. The dialect from these regions is the dialect I was raised with. Considering that I was born in Ohio, and raised in Fresno county where at one time the people de el valle de Texas came from. To write, research is mandatory. Or, write of what you know. I probably won’t read the book. I will wait till the movie comes out, hopefully in Netflix. I might be interested in reading one of your books. God bless you and your family.

      1. En Reynosa, y Monterey Nuevo Leon hablan en es Español.
        if you were born in Ohio and your parents from la frontera de Tamalipas and Nuevo Leon and lived in el Valle, which is the Rio Grand, your parents were likely migrants workers following the crops, so did we.
        We were born in the Rio Grand, Primera, Texas 5 miles north west of Harlingen and became migrant in 1957 when my dad decide to leave the farm and headed to Michigan, Ohio, West Texas, and finally California, Clovis was home for us there after 1965, we have had a good life unforgettable memories my both parents are gone and left us a strong value and love for one another, thats how live was back in the days of migrant people helping one another eating in the same table, Iam 71 years and for me and my family we still practice that relationship with one another.

    2. Having been following the controversy this past week, I picked up then put down the book in a bookshop, having decided to wait until I read this review before purchasing. Now I’ve read it.
      It seems you hate it because it touches a nerve; because the main character is shocked where she shouldn’t be; and because the writing is poor. But mainly you hated it because you didn’t write it yourself. Now the author is getting death threats.
      Please. Have you never heard of satire? You could rewrite this and showcase your own writing.

      1. Oh, Knell, Knell, Knell…I think I heard your mother call you down because your chicken nuggets are ready. Maybe when you learn to read smart content, you can come back and actually read this review. Or maybe you can just keep reading shitty word vomit like American Dirt and 50 Shades of Grey and butt out of adults’ conversations. 😀

      2. Knell, good points. The negative comments actually reinforce what you said- it’s more jealousy than anything else. Even the comments can resort to not much more than juvenile insults while accusing you of shallowness. The irony is overwhelming 🙂

      3. Knellie boo, is this really the thing you want to have said? Why is it that wypipo always claim the jealousy card whenever a minority points out legitimate racial appropriation? Trust me when I say, ain’t nobody jealous of you bland fools!

      4. I agree with Knell. I think the big complaint is about recognition and La Causa gets lost in one author’s jealously over another, which is shameful. This is supposed to be about awareness for the immigrants, and that message needs delivered, particularly when election time comes. There are a lot of independent voters that need the polemics, whether Gurba sees it or not.

        And to say the word “brownface” is a remarkable insult between writers. No one should ever try to coerce or curtail the work of another author. Those are very perilous waters.

        Imagine the reaction if Gurba was told she cannot write about any character outside of herself. Anyone else wouldn’t be authentic so keep your mouth shut.

        No. Absolutely not. Would you say that, given the chance, to Steinbeck? How deep does that well go, truly? Should no one comment outside of “what they know?” That is beyond the death of fiction. It’s Orwellian.

        There is great merit to the attempt to understand others. And now, Gurba, your big claim to fame is attacking another writer who supports immigrants no less! What sort of alt-future are you inspiring?

        If pity gets someone to vote against Trump, bring pity on. Give us pity. Petty arguments about what’s authentic doesn’t serve the immigrants, who do need people to understand the gravity of their situation. You should applaud when people try to understand those outside their own bubbles. That’s a lot more admirable than pissing and moaning about not getting the big advance.

      5. Gurba’s best paragraph:
        It shocks Lydia to learn that the mysterious and wealthy patron who frequents her bookstore flanked by “[thuggish]” bodyguards is the capo of the local drug cartel! It shocks Lydia to learn that some central Americans migrate to the United States by foot! It shocks Lydia to learn that men rape female migrants en route to the United States! It shocks Lydia to learn that Mexico City has an ice-skating rink! (This “surprise” gave me a good chuckle: I learned to ice skate in México.) That Lydia is so shocked by her own country’s day-to-day realities, realities that I’m intimate with as a Chicana living en el norte, gives the impression that Lydia might not be…a credible Mexican. In fact, she perceives her own country through the eyes of a pearl-clutching American tourist.

        Why? It’s about the book.

        Gurba’s worst paragraph:
        Dirt reads like a gringa remix of Nazario’s Enrique’s Journey and a sloppy mash-up of Urrea’s entire oeuvre. His early works, Across the Wire and By the Lake of Sleeping Children, echo throughout Dirt. The book’s cringe-inducing awkwardness reminds me of the time I walked in on my roommate dressed from head to toe in my clothes. It astonished and disturbed me to find this fellow undergrad in front of our dorm room mirror, pretending to be… me. Suddenly aware of my presence, she made eye contact with me through the reflection. Unsure of what to do, I left. We never discussed the event.

        Why? It’s about Gurba.

        Unfortunately, about 50% of the review is similar to or worse than the second paragraph, implying it’s only half true the review is about the book. The review reminds me of the time I shook up a bottle of soda, popped the cap, and soda went everywhere. Gurba apparently has much bottled up inside her, and American Dirt popped her cap. I’m in the habit of scanning pages in a book randomly before deciding to read the whole thing. I’m pretty good at zeroing in on problems like Gurba zeroed in on, when she stayed on point. Chances are, I would have passed on reading American Dirt. But, to go ballistic on the book and the author? Much more than the thought – it’s not a good authentic book – is going on inside Gurba.

    3. Myriam,

      Thanks for the review and for highlighting these issues.

      I am so sorry that you experienced the assault you described. Unfortunately, the trauma of sexual assault is something far too many of us have to live through. I hope you are recovering as well as can be expected, and as you know, you are not alone.

    4. I love the discussions in the comments lol I absolutely LOVE this piece written in response to this book. I aspire to write in a way that goes for the jugular as hard as this does. It says “This book and its author are fake garbage and I refuse to hear anything else about it” and then you cut the author and the book to shreds as you explain why both are fake garbage. I’ve never read Dirt or heard about this author [although I’m about to look her up] but your writing is written so well, so cleverly, so effectively, that I thoroughly agree with you by the end. Well done. The anecdote about your roommate leading into a metaphor with this author was literary gold, absolutely delicious.

    1. Chiiiingao mujer!!! I F’n loved what u wrote. I cracked up and id write que me carcaje but im not sure that’s how u spell it! I think people shud write if they are writers…but…i get why u said what u said. Its like when i watch TV and there’s a Mexican family…and on the freaking couch is a pinche sarape!!!! When in the hell has my family – even my family in México EVER had a sarape on the couch??!! The answer is never. Im tempted to borrow a book and read it. I read ur article with a grain of salt…but now Im gonna take that salt and pour a shot of tequila…and i raise it to u! Salud!!

    1. yes this is an excellently written piece of criticism; so are you– having read your review also with recommendations which I am off to find and read; and your beautiful poem

  1. Vos sois, señora, mean –as your recent creation is titled, y mean y harsh, y tanto –digo– que thine critica becomes an over-worked exercise in meaness; in other words: vuestra alegata adversus *Dirt* y su autora, despite being clever and certera, pierde fuerza in being so vehemente, y sobre todo in being so vulgar –and I am sure your lectores, en su mayoria, unless they were raised in a barrio bajo are not fully aware de la rude intensity of vuestra vulgaridad cuando usais el revolting lingo de una degenerate. Would it be, perchance que lo soez de vuestra expresion, both in English and Castillian goes then to make allusion a la stupidity de *Dirt*’s own title? After all, “dirt” es mugre, como la que usais cuando vuestra filthy tongue revela the anger you carry incontrolablemente inside and spews por todos lados to a numbing pitch. Mas vos valdria, señora mia, que usarais the same style and tenor que usais in la second part of your ensayo, despues de que deciis: “Dirt isn’t Cummins’s first book” etc, etc. From then on, ya less vulgar and emotional, thine writing becomes not only more palatable sino tambien quite more centrado e inteligente. Decir “pendeja” y “fucking” and all those inmundicias, is quite unnecessary for a talent like yours. Un gran brain como el vuestro does not need to appeal to the lowest and mas groseras emociones elecited by strongly disturbing language –especially in serious criticism. Asi pues, en mi humilde opinion, vuestra critica excels in its content pero adolesce in its form. Yes, the author is a gringa, but in saying so os volveis gratuituosly mean (same thing as if ella called thee “a mexican”. Si, ella es una idiota, but I want to learn that from thine clever analisis y from el subtext, y no porque vos me digas que she’s an idiot.

    1. I thought by swearing she was making a point, not only to express the extreme disgust but also partly as a clap back to safe space fragility of the type that goes hand in hand with fake SJW antics. Swearing is good for us, cathartic even.

      1. yes this is an excellently written piece of criticism; so are you– having read your review also with recommendations which I am off to find and read; and your beautiful poem

    2. TL:DR also pretentious as hell. The writer has already rebuked your take on her opinion piece. In her own words from My Taco Laughs at You: On Death Threats Aimed at Women of Color Who Don’t Fellate White Supremacy : ” My parents took pride in my level of academic achievement, it was usually high, so I felt a little nervous about how they would respond to my D. When I showed the essay to him, Dad read it and guffawed. He said, “There’s nothing wrong with your paper. You should’ve gotten an A. And your teacher is an asshole. Just like the one you had last year.”

      I smiled and laughed with Dad. I’m glad he gave me a profane lens through which to regard my teachers and in doing so, Dad taught me a lesson best articulated by Hannah Arendt: “The greatest enemy of authority […] is contempt, and the surest way to undermine it is laughter.”

    3. Enriquito, no seas mamila. Myriam escribió su crítica como a ella mejor le pareció. Si quieres otra versión, escribe la tuya propia

    4. Dear Enrique Moreno, usted sos jealous because she’s a girl y las chavas are not supposed to escribir ni bién ni maliciosamente. So shove vuestro paternalismo up your culo. Amistosamente yours, otra perra.

    5. She is allowed to be angry. And she doesn’t need your permission, either way. It’s funny, the majority of men are similar—even same, regardless of ethnicity or country of origin. I’m certain, however, this intelligent and courageous woman doesn’t give a “fuck” what you have to say about her offering. Women of color are strong like this, understanding their men will usually jump to the aid of the delicate flower that is white femininity—both imposters longing for the power and privilege that is white masculinity. I’m assuming you didn’t read your own post before you hit, “send”, you missed your own angry sneer and dismissive tone, and paternalistic disdain…ahhh, but as a man you inherently feel Obliged to demonstrate any emotion which arises—something you wish to withhold from this intelligent and perspicacious woman. You’re quite amusing in sea of hubris.

    6. Perhaps you’re trying to show everyone that you are sophisticated and educated dropping castellano; where you from anyway??? You don’t say, maybe you’re from trollville? Whatever, Ms Mean is exactly that… mean, o no entiendes Mendes? Lo que me parece ridiculo de su parte es que usted pone en bajo la autora de este blog por su opinión fuerte, si ella tiene bolas grandes! Pues es Mexicana 100% y que, no entiendes la lengua Mexicana? And have you ever heard of post colonialism somewhere in trollville? Well, I’m a product of it andnobviously so is she, No te gusta? Pues no lo lea señor troll whatever you are. WTH?

    7. Oh how cute! A dude telling a woman how to use language! And in such a clever mix of English and Spanish! Where did all of the vulgarity hurt the most, dear? In your feelings? In your patriarchal male fragility? Where should all women kiss it and make it all better? In case you only understand half and half: I am super sorry, corazón, si te hiere your feelings que una mujer con más inteligencia que tú uses foul language. Now go back to your cartoons, you pompous, pretentious PENDEJO.

    8. then go read the book; her work is excellent and by the way “dirt” can take on more than one meaning including tierra, which it does for the book title

  2. @Chano Velasquez: notice I’m not objecting to filth in a fiction narrative; de hecho, mi objecion se basa en que esta pieza es critica literaria –y no ficcion (in which case I wouln’t say nada). I am encouraging her to stop being juvenile and grow to the next stage: mas profesional en su criticism. Tu estas encouraging her to think that her current shortcomings are cute –not so.

  3. Great review, love your wit. I usually just avoid novels written by non natives when it comes to any culture. I don’t understand why you’d want to read a Mexican immigrant novel written by someone who isn’t Mexican – doesn’t make sense. What does she know? She’s literally not from there. “She’s humanizing brown people/immigrants” – the fuck?? I’m white and can see how fucked up that sentence is, jesus. It’s a damn shame they think a whitey is the only one capable of humanizing a race or presenting it in a easily digestible fashion. It’s like when everyone read fucking Shogun but Taiko exists, written by an actual Japanese person. The 5 star reviews are nauseating on Goodreads.

    1. “I don’t understand why you’d want to read a Mexican immigrant novel written by someone who isn’t Mexican – doesn’t make sense. What does she know? She’s literally not from there. ”

      I agree with you. It’s just coming across as opportunistic to cash in

    2. Yah, Good Reads, I’ve discovered, has 5 stars for an unending pile of schlock. I don’t use it as a source to discover worthwhile reads any more. I adored the review of Dirt, and will not be reading it or seeing the movie.

  4. Loved your reference to her false-ness as being like when you found your flatmate dressed up in your in the U.K some of us refer to these frauds as ‘professional’ blks or black for pay !
    In Guyana,South America she may have been likened to someone who steals ‘ole higue’s’ skin , a phrase my mother often uses.
    The best review of this type of sell-out literature that I’ve ever read !

  5. Spot on. And you were relatively mild in your critique. I’m still laughing – but she had some nerve. 7 figures? No wonder they keep doing it.

    I believe autistic readers often had the exact same reaction to The Curious Incident of the Dog in the NIghttime, Mark Haddon pretending to understand – and portray – an autistic kid: WTF!?!

    1. Well maybe this will enlighten you> Mark Haddon did not use the word “autism” in his book, let alone claim to portray autism accurately. He even spoke publicly against using his book as an autism textbook. Certainly, he was not at fault.

  6. A great review that should be read. Cummin’s wants to give voice to Mexican people, yet the publishers silence your review. That says it all.

  7. A great review that should be read. Cummin’s writes the book to apparently give Mexicans a voice, yet the publishers silence your review. That says it all.

  8. I suspect a 23&Me took place between this book and that last one….”Oh, look, I’m ethnic! Now I know which restaurants to frequent!”

  9. Animo!!! Great review!! Dirt is totally jodido … you are right about the lack if humor … thats the difference between mexicans and gringos … I’m a gringo who lives in cadereyta nuevo leon … its totally screwed up but everyone shrugs laughs about it, goes to work, plays softball and drinks michelob ultra .. echamos cheves sometime … you are a great writer

    1. This Pendeja has no clue as to the fact that a captivating story can be written by anyone. You don’t have to to be a Mejicana to write a polemical story about what is happening on our borders. There was a book, “Famous All Over Town”, written by Danny Santiago, a pseudonym for Daniel Lewis, a social worker. This book was amazing, and true to the ELA culture of graffiti. “Full of poverty, violence, emotional injury…all realistically portrayed, yet, like a spring feast day in a barrio, it is nevertheless relentlessly joyous. –The New York Times Book Review. American Dirt is just that, a page turning, past paced, anxiety involving book, that I had to put down several times to just get up and move. Do I care that a Latina/Mejicana didn’t write it? No I don’t.

      1. I agree with you. Anyone can write about anything. But the point of this review is to underline that the author of American Dirt, Jeanine Cummins, lacks the research and sensibility to do so. And it’s right there in the book.
        Just one example: Cummins is supposedly writing about a Mexican woman who’s lived in Mexico her whole life. But then, that very Mexican woman is surprised that something as trivial as an ice rink exists in Mexico.
        That just speaks volumes of what Cummins is really portraying on the page: not a Mexican character, but a proxy, a stand-in of a non-immigrant person who’s never been in Mexico, “seeing the country for the very first time”.
        That’s what’s enraging. Someone who didn’t take the time to learn, nor took the right approach to write about Mexico.
        The book’s pacing might be good. The intentions to portray a Mexican’s (the so-called “faceless brown masses”) plight might be sincere.
        But the kernel, the heart of the book, the literary attempt to convey something of value, that’s what’s put in danger when you discover that its author didn’t really try to see the story through Mexican eyes.
        It’s as if me, a male, tried to write a female character while thinking of her as someone less able than a man.

      2. If the book was well-written and accurate to Mexican culture and experience, I doubt many people would care that a white lady wrote it. But the criticism here isn’t “white lady wrote it”, it’s “white lady wrote it bad”.

      3. If you can’t even write Mexicana correctly, your opinion on who can or can’t write about us is irrelevant

      4. Re: “That just speaks volumes of what Cummins is really portraying on the page: not a Mexican character, but a proxy, a stand-in of a non-immigrant person who’s never been in Mexico, ‘seeing the country for the very first time.’ ”

        Yes, it’s a proxy. She wants her readers to feel as if they themselves are fleeing to the US.
        And she created a character to whom the average English speaking American can relate: a literate,
        middle-class mother and small business owner. And yes, her character is seeing Mexico for the first time, just like the reader. It’s a deliberate device.

        But I get why people are angry. They feel strip-mined.

  10. Brava for this article and for your review. As a sometime journalist, I’ve had the same sort of problem with running-scared, middle-class editors and publishers since about 1974. But I’m 70 now and basically retired from journalism/feature writing and working on my own shit here in Mexico City (soon moving to Xalapa). I’m going to be looking for your books and more of your pieces on the Internet. Keep up the good work. Matt Stowell (aka Alexander Lowell)

  11. You talk about stereotype, have you NOT seen any Mexican novela? La rosa de Guadalupe, maybe? As a Spanish born, NY based student I can tell you that us Spanish people are the first ones to stereotype ourselves all the time. Another thing, to shit on other people’s work is a very Spanish quality for what I have expletive here, so you just fir the stereotype yourself. If you don’t like her work find a constructive way to say it, criticize her work not destroy her character. You are not Gordon Ramsay and this is not Hell’s Kitchen. You make it easy to see that you dislike her just because she’s white and that’s sad.
    Also, your Spanglish does not impress anyone.

    1. Yes, the Yanks stole the land from Mexico, but Mexico and its Spanish, Indian and Mestizo colonists stole the land from the Native Americans like the Chumash, Tongva, Kumeeyaay, Hopi, Zuni, Ohlone, Apache, Navajo, Comanche, and all other Indigenous people of the American Southwest. So it didn’t belong to Mexico in the first place. Though it was invaded by Mexican and Yankee colonists, it didn’t belong to any of them. This is why it is dumb for Mexican Americans to bring this up because of the hypocrisy, a colonist is a colonist, and one colonist is not better than the next, because thousands of Native Americans were massacred, genocided, enslaved, infected with diseases and raped and lost their homelands at the hands of both invading Mexican and Yankee colonizers.

      1. ¿QUÉ? Theres no such thing as Mexican colonists you twerp! Yes the españoles came over and raped and pillaged, and spread disease and language and but I think you really need to open a history book.

  12. Why don’t we just put you on a panel of judges who get to decide what gets published and what doesn’t? It’s fiction, you can write about anything you want. There are no qualifications necessary to write a novel, at least there weren’t the last time I checked.

    1. Have you never heard of a book review. This is a book review (and more) and it’s hilarious.

      Perhaps you don’t like a certain section of the world’s population to open their loud mouths? Or do you do this whenever someone posts a book review?

    2. I wish she was on that panel, but also appreciate that her voice is so singular, rich, and astute that I hope she continues to write her own works rather than spend it working in a publishing house. Perhaps she could read for publishers as a sideline, though. I’d love to see her as a gatekeeper of the publishing world.

    3. People are free to write what they want, but other people are free to criticize them. You telling me that you’ve never complained about a bad book, or movie, or TV show?

  13. This is brilliant! I would read a review about toilet paper written by you. I am looking for Mean as soon as I press send. I am so sorry that you had to experience that trauma.

  14. You are doing the same thing the Dirt woman is doing, thinking that by dropping a bunch of poorly-used Spanglish you gain authenticity. I think deep-down you know that your Mexican-American experience is as alien to actual Mexicans living in Mexico as their experience is to the Dirt author. It’s nice you have tried to connect with the culture, but actual Mexicans are more than able to speak for themselves and it’s not necessary for you to be the gringo avatar of their frustrations with their unfair portrayal in some dumb novel. Gracias.

    1. @Pablo, soy mexicana, nacida en Mexico, y te agradezco mucho que no hables por mi, mkay? Como 100% mexicana de la mera mera Cuidad de Mexico (chilanga de hueso colorado), te digo que Miriam tiene toda la razon, y que aunque a ti no te parezca, los “verdaderos” mexicanos estamos de acuerdo con ella. So STFU. “Dirt” is some serious trash and horrible representation. So Miriam, here’s a megaphone. Say it louder! Pablo, go home, dude.

  15. And Steinbeck wasn’t an Okie, either. Didn’t stop him. Newsflash: You can write about people who aren’t you. It’s called fiction.

    1. You certainly can, but if you do, you have to do a good job in order to create a convincing work of art. And Cummins apparently did a very poor job, which is why she’s being criticized for it.

      1. She “apparently” did a bad job because Mexican scholars and writers have been pointing out that there are serious flaws and misrepresentations in her work, which bothers them because this novel is being marketed as an authentic representation of the plight of Mexican migrants. I was pointing out that critiques of this nature are not an example of gatekeeping or inherently unfair to the author, as the original poster implied, but rather a valid line of critique for reviewers to take in discussing a book of this nature.

        Most importantly, most of the critical reviews I have read by Mexicans stress that they have no problem with non-Mexicans writing about Mexico — they just ask that non-Mexican writers take care to represent the culture fairly and accurately, which is not an unreasonable request. I am not Mexican and have little understanding of Mexican culture myself, but I respect the right of those in the know to point out inaccuracies and things that they find troubling in the work. It’s a conversation, and a valid one.

  16. So what’s the solution offered by Gurba? Writers are going to write. It’s possible–and you don’t even have to try hard–to divorce politics and social agendas from art. I’d read anything, just for the experience of seeing how the author pulled it off. You’re offended only if you choose to be. Treat it as one writer’s effort to see through different eyes from her own, and see if the work holds up as literature.

  17. God bless you for reading this horrible book so we can enjoy this epic destruction of it. I’m also really pissed your editor told you you weren’t “famous” enough to publish this? But Cummins is famous enough that her editors let her do whatever she wants? Grab ‘em by the culture?

  18. Thanks for this. I shouldn’t be shocked so many white people want to read this torture porn by a white author depicting Mexican people yet here I am.

  19. !Te aventaste, mija! De que eres apasionada, !no me cabe la menor duda! La (o el) imbecil que no acepto tu critica porque careces de “nombre” o celebridad (“I lacked the fame”), te barajeo una gachada. Pero creo que el/la erro. Luego me explico.
    Para empezar, no te encabrones con la seudopocha, Cummins, nomas porque le ofrecieron un millon por su obra y a ti no te ha caido esa loteria. Relacionate mas, o como dicen en gringolandia: “network, baby.” O consiguete un agente mas movido o con conocidos adinerados. Trabas y barreras existen hacia el exito economico y literario, pero en EEUU no son racistas; son clasistas… Mira a Slim: pago sus millones y le vendieron acciones en el New York Times. “Poderoso caballero es don Dinero.” No se fijaron en su tez; se fijaron en su cartera.
    That said, no se si leer esta novela o no. No diste resumen de la obra, pero si detalles que te enrabiaron, como la escena choteada de la “balacera-en-una-quinceañera” o como revela la personalidad profundamente ingénua de su protagonista. De acuerdo, no muy original (ya que hasta yo tengo parientes cuyos amigos sufrieron algo parecido y sus pobres perros, no teniendo culpa de nada, fueron acribillados). Desgraciados narcos.
    El que la protagonista, Perez, se asombre al enterarse de detalle equis, i-griega o zeta, nos dice algo de la profunda ignorancia cultural de la autora, Cummins, como investigadora de la vida cotidiana de una librera, casada con un cronista, cuyos ojos se abren despues de vivir una existencia a semejanza de monja de convento. En esto estoy de acuerdo. Pero superemos este defecto y describa el proceso mental y afectivo de la protagonista segun progresa en su odisea.
    Como evoluciona el personaje central, Lydia Q. Perez? Que epifanias y cambios siente al avanzar su “aventura” hacia El Norte? Quienes son los sub-personajes y que papel desempeñan en la obra? Con estos detalles tendriamos una critica autentica.
    Me quede con la curiosidad de saber el porque comparan esta obra con _Grapes of Wrath_. Y, pues, !nada! zip, zilch, goose-egg. Get on with it, young lady! Is Cummins’ book really the next immigrant “classic?” I really, _really_ want to know and, I strongly suspect, an authentic voice such as yours can cut through the hype and to the chase! I came here for a review and walked away with resentment. Come on, we’re all adults in the room. Y al que no le guste, que se vaya mucho a la…
    Subrayo: El criticar la buena fortuna de una oportunista mas, no llega a nada y adolesce como critica literaria.
    Haganos el favor…
    Be well.

    1. Toward the end Ms. Gurba writes, “… while some white critics have compared Cummins to Steinbeck, I think a more apt comparison is to Vanilla Ice.” I think that amply explains the title.

  20. I’m usually the type who will defend the right of anyone to write about anything — that’s what imagination is for — but even I have to admit that this novel sounds like a serious misfire. The cultures of Latin America have produced writers of absolute genius who can speak for themselves about their triumphs and problems, and Mexico is no exception. Mexico does not need to be “rescued” or given a “voice” by a white writer who thinks writing melodramatic, cliched drivel is the way to make Americans care about the plight of immigrants/migrants, and the very fact she thinks they are somehow “faceless” without her speaking on their behalf makes my skin crawl.

    It sounds as though Cummins was given an eye-watering advance by the publisher just for the sake of cashing in on a current hot topic in the news, not because her work merited it in terms of artistic quality and depth of understanding. Really disappointing. Maybe that money could have gone towards funding more translations of great Spanish-language works from Mexico instead.

  21. if you don’t like the novel then write your own. The tearing down of this female author is disturbing and undermines everyone. Smells like jealousy.

  22. I’m going to make your review my screen saver! Take everything you said, double it, and apply it to white people who have misappropriated, ripped off and out right stolen from black folk since the founding of this country. Whites have no problem taking our music, art, style, food, language or anything else without acknowledgement, recognition, gratitude or compensation. They fetishize our culture while at the same time treating us as “less than” or “other.” Thank you for your fierce truthfulness. By the way, I felt the same rage when that grotesque book “The Help” was published a few years ago.

  23. I’m going to make your review my screen saver! Take everything you said, double it, and apply it to white people who have misappropriated, ripped off and out right stolen from black folk since the founding of this country. Whites have no problem taking our music, art, style, food, language or anything else without acknowledgement, recognition, gratitude or compensation. They fetishize our culture while at the same time treating us as “less than” or “other.” Thank you for your fierce truthfulness. By the way, I felt the same rage when that grotesque book “The Help” was published a few years ago.

  24. “American Dirt” sounds like a textbook example for my thesis on the ideologically motivated re-framing of Mexican culture for consumption by the gringo hegemony. This goes all the way back to the propaganda used to vilify Mexico in the Mexican-American War, right back to Walt Whitman and his nasty little dig at “inefficient Mexico” to justify the lie of “Manifest Destiny” US imperialist expansion, the forcible appropriation of swathes of Mexican land… 170 years later, closet imperialists continue bleating the same idiotic tropes found in gringo dime-store novels of the 19th century. Yuri Herrera’s “Señales que precederán el fin del mundo” is a good antidote to this gringo illness, turning the whole “US promised land/Mexico inferno” trope on its head. It should be required reading for every Anglo-American.

  25. My 15 year old son goes to a very left-leaning school where they study reparative justice. He also spends a lot of time reading about politics and culture online. Sometimes he rolls his eyes at the extreme left and this is exactly the kind of thing he would roll his eyes about, rightly so. I try to remind that he shouldn’t judge all conservatives based on the alt-right any more than he should judge all liberals based on this kind of hatred. This essay is ludicrous. You are railing against a NOVEL. FICTION. John Steinbeck was not an okie. I’m sure that people who experienced what he wrote about would find that parts of The Grapes of Wrath don’t ring true to them. So what. It’s fiction. It’s a beautiful book. It’s fine if you don’t like this NOVEL on its literary merits, but what you have written is not a book review. Also, you talk about the author describing herself as white and then bringing up her Puerto Rican grandmother as though these things contradict each other. My grandfather was Mexican, and my mother describes herself as Mexican. She doesn’t really consider me Mexican and she’s right. When I fill out forms, I list myself as white. I look white, my name is anglo, and no one has ever recognized me as being Mexican. I’m proud of my heritage, but the world sees me and treats me as white, so my experience is totally different. Every single person on this earth has their own individual experience in this world. I find beauty, understanding and connection with the human experience through novels. It seems the majority of commenters here agreeing with you have not even read this book. I find that extremely depressing.

    1. You just undermined your own argument: ”no one has ever recognized me as being Mexican. I’m proud of my heritage, but the world sees me and treats me as white, so my experience is totally different.” So she is sick of being treated differently, as ”other” whereas you have NO experience of this because…read what you wrote above. Duh

  26. I have not read American Dirt but have definitely been hearing the opposition to it. Thank you for recommending some alternative books for us to read, Whenever I read criticism of a book, movie, etc. I really appreciate recommendations of books or movies that the criticizer feels are a more accurate portrayal of the real people, country, situation, whatever.

  27. I loved Dirt so much I was stunned about the initial blowback, but am glad I clicked on NYT’s link to your blog, Myriam. I hope you are open to going face to face with Jeanine because the horrors faced my migrants are a subject dear to a lot of hearts, including some very serious white hearts. I quote Brene Brown:”I pray to God that you never have to flee violence or poverty or persecution with your children. And, if the day comes that you must and your babies are forcibly removed from your arms, I will fight for you too.” MLK dreamt all races could work together for justice and happiness for all. I dream of this every single day.

  28. I’m glad I clicked on NYT’s link to your blogpost re Dirt. I loved Dirt and Jeanine’s writing style, but I’ve begun to understand the assault on your wheelhouse, Myriam. If you are offered to share a dais with Jeanine, I hope you’ll accept it because the challenges migrants face can be horrible and we–of all races–can help, hand in hand. I quote Brene Brown: “I pray to God that you never have to flee violence or poverty or persecution with your children. And, if the day comes that you must and your babies are forcibly removed from your arms, I will fight for you.” Most good writers, like yourself, bleed and pour sweat on every page. If writers were mainly mercenary, we’d have no literature, and your hearts would be less likely to get changed from the empathy expressed by artists.

  29. Remarkable little diatribe, except that I wonder what the men and women of Chiapas think about Ms. Gurba’s cry-me-a-river Mexican-outrage porn. After all, the Mestizos who dominate Mexico have been nakedly appropriating Indian culture since 1910, whilst preferring ‘to look down their noses at (them)…rather than face that (they) are their moral and intellectual equals, (they) happily pity them.’ Ms. Gurba is that species of provocateur so enamored of her own presumed victimhood as an alleged “person of color” that she somehow misses how her own “people of color” have subjected the 21% of the Mexican population which is indigenous to rank discrimination and economic segregation for four centuries. Indeed, it was so bad that they revolted in 1994 and waged a three year war against Ms. Gurba’s community. Maybe Ms. Gurba is too young to remember that – okay millenial – but their struggle continues – except that for Ms. Gurba, they are apparently invisible.

  30. Thank you. Many things struck me in your piece, but Cummins’s comment that she didn’t want to “write about race” irritated my very soul. Why? Because it points to one of my pet peeves–white people who think that every conversation about race is ONLY about African Americans and white people. Latinx and Asian people aren’t regarded. AND, if she didn’t want to “write about race”, then why did she suddenly claim Latinx heritage in order to “legitimize” the book she wrote? If you’re white, then write something that you can talk about. If you’ve never been Black or Brown or something other than what you are, then don’t write about those experiences. The fact that a Black woman, Oprah Effin’ Winfrey is pushing this book, infuriates me. Yes, let’s get mad when white people appropriate Black culture, Oprah, but let’s not support other people of color when the same is done to them? REALLY?? The notion that anybody can write about anything suggests that I, an African American woman could have written “There There” or “The Joy Luck Club”. Yeah, no. I won’t be reading her book, and will encourage my book club and others not to do so either.

    1. So, if I understand you, A person cannot write about a culture or experience unless they are from that culture or have had the same experience.
      Oh let’s not read about anything by anyone other than ourselves. Way to go. .

      1. No, you don’t understand me. Let me be more specific. In my opinion, white people should not write as though they are part of the culture. I will never be able to experience and feel what an Asian American woman does, so why would I write a book as if a were an Asian American woman? You can read whatever you want. But if you are reading a book about the experience of someone from a race or ethnicity that is not your own, make sure that you are reading a book that is written by someone who is of that race or ethnicity. Support Latinx writers, African-American writers, Asian American writers, LGBTQ writers that write about their cultural experience.

  31. Yup, this is who makes money in America, and this is how.

    Of course ANY writer is perfectly welcome to write anything, about ANY subject. That is not the point at all. Curtailing freedom of expression is not the aim, or at least it never should be. Never. And any criticism that smacks of silencing anyone, or inhibiting anyone’s writing, has not been thought through.

    All the budding writers, however, do not inexplicably become “overnight sensations” with inexplicable seven-figure advances. Most face mountains of rejection before their breakthrough. Repeated rejection has happened to the future winners of every literary award in the world, including the Nobel Prize.

    But don’t despair — truly good work is not being advanced anywhere in the US, on any level.
    (Or, maybe do despair?)

    I think what bothers me most is that as a matter of fact, some of the very finest literature in the world since the early 20th century to the present time has come from Latin America, and the finest bookstores in the world today are in Latin America.

    I bet a lot of norteamericanos didn’t know that. That’s the part I don’t like. It grates on me like I can’t tell you. Somehow, only some work counts. Other work? Not at all. It may as well not even exist, as far as The Market is concerned.

    How does that happen, and keep happening?

  32. “She said migrants at the Mexican border were being portrayed as a ‘faceless brown mass.’ She said she wanted to give these people a face.”
    How exactly is that considered offensive? What is offensive is that people on the border are portrayed a faceless. This author wanted to give those faces a human story that we could relate to that you won’t get on FOX News or CNN. So I’m not exactly sure why trying to portray immigrants on the border in a positive light is somehow negative? I’ll have to read the book. Anything that causes this much anger and passion needs to be read.

    1. It’s offensive that white people think they can be our messiah, and then get upset when those “faceless” actually have something to say about they portray us. It’s even more offensive when white people profit off the pain of brown people, since publishing houses would rather promote that than the voices of actual brown authors.

  33. I loved your review. Hard hitting and to the point. I am a Chicano from San Antonio Tejas, I find your mixing of English and Spanish very refreshing and entertaining.
    I will be following you in the future.

  34. Aww, give Cummins a break. She’s just your typical guilty liberal Democrat trying to bring light to the Left’s causes. She meant to do a good deed, and yet she is being crucified by those she wanted to lift up. Yikes!

  35. This reader would be much more receptive to the concerns and criticisms regarding Cummins’ novel–and related issues of social, cultural, and political relevancy–had Miriamgurba’s tone not reflected the worst of “cancel culture” takedowns and Trump-era incivility, and ad hominem attacks. Surely being culturally “inauthentic” (if she is guilty) still does not warrant this vitriol.

  36. OK, powerful review, fun to read, but all I hear is whining. I came from Soviet Russia. I don’t cry or whine when someone (practically everyone actually) portrays Russians, Russia and USSR as caricatures built on stereotypes. It’s funny actually. Sometimes painful and funny. But I don’t feel offended. Should I? Why did you?

    1. Yes, you should. I come from the communist era of Romania. Had some white, black or brown American wrote about the atrocity of those times, IMAGINING THE POVERTY AND ISSUES AND DEATHS – no baby formula was available, and my three months baby almost died of sheer hunger – I would have ‘killed’ the voice of that writer barehanded.
      As for you, you ‘came from Soviet Russia’ but you don’t strike me as one of the victims of the communists. More like a privileged person who chose to go west.

      1. Hello Mariana, I am pretty sure you misunderstood both Myriam and me.

        1. Myriam, among other things, is pissed that Mexico is described as an underdeveloped scary place Americans believe it to be. You think of me as someone who’s life should have been defined by, but didn’t in your opinion, the extreme poverty brought by the collapse of the soviet economy.

        2. My point was that you can choose to take American (and apparently American-Romanian) depictions of Russians with humor.

        To answer my own question, I need to start with a story about my grandfather, who died in Russia, and who was a Jew. He loved a joke that he does not take personally (to his heart) all the causal anti Semitic antics of Soviets because he does not feel inferior to anti-semites or Russians or any other nation in general.

        Jokes aside, a disproportional anger at cultural stereotypes comes out as weak and unbecoming of a well rounded person. You can express pity and be amused or make a joke at their expense but spitting anger cheapens the point and makes one wonder what’s going on in your head, what personal demons and fears you are trying to hide

    2. Well, Mikh, I understand what ‘spitting anger” is. I’m not sure that you understand what real-life hurting is. Mostly when you are part of a minority submitted to the ones making decisions. You’re great when talking about your grandfather, but had you suffered hunger and life threats alongside your grandpa, or are you using his persona to prove your point in general? It’s easy to prove a point and shut everybody off, throwing to their faces the fact that you had a hero-figure grandpa. If you’re doing that to satisfy your ego, winning arguments, you are wrong. Fear and hunger are not personal demons but a sheer reality for some of us. Rejection and non-inclusivity also. By the way, I am not an American-Romanian. I still live in Romania, still fighting reality. I don’t have the privileges of an American-Romanian. my passport is not Ameican-strengthened.

  37. This is a brilliant, hilarious, vicious, insightful and perfectly convicting critique. It inspires me to live my life in such a way that I never ever piss you off.

  38. While I agree with some of your general points, I feel that you may be internalizing too much of the book and reviewing it from your personal experience. I challenge you to take yourself out of the picture and think about American Dirt from the eyes of the American society as a whole. Of course “Cummins reveals the color of her intended audience: white”- because that is what the majority of america is, and the book serves to educate those who don’t have a fraction of the knowledge that you do! Commins is taking an extremely complex issue and simplifying it down slightly so that it can appeal and be understood for the general American public. I challenge you to try and make a list of three good things that someone could like about American Dirt. I challenge you to open your mind and find something, anything positive about this book from another person’s perspective.

  39. Thank you for this review. Someone needed to say this. So you’re not famous enough for the elite to allow you a voice? I suspect the Oprah set came up with the idea for this book for political reasons (just as I suspect that The Grapes of Wrath was written for political reasons). It probably wasn’t hard to find a greedy author willing to sell out for filthy lucre. Oprah and her ilk are the ones anointed by the elite, to tell Americans what to think. They certainly are behind all the hype about this book.

    In any case, I would never have read this book, because I only read non-fiction. All my favorite books are memoirs. I can’t understand how anyone can find enjoyment from an invented story that never happened. But then, I read text books for pleasure, so there’s no accounting for tastes.

  40. First of all I read the book and found it amazing. I respect your opinion and your point of view. You are so worried about Mexican stereotypes try eliminating the Mexican slang as you are only embracing the stereotype you say you hate. My wife is as you would put it a Mexican National She thought it was thoughtful and well written. Mexico is not all rainbows and lollipops. There is crime just like here in the USA but 20X worse. My father had his home and land taken away by the government no reason given. The land his family owned for 3 generations. I stopped calling myself a Mexican the day that happened

  41. I just finished American Dirt. I loved it. It’s a novel. Seems like you’re advocating some type of censorship by stating who is allowed to write books. You seem a little too angry to be objective. Just my humble opinion. I’m sure many people will disagree.

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  44. I finished the book last week and have been curious about the controversy that it’s generated. Your critique seems to be an epicenter, and while I think the many concerns it contains are real and important, I also think they are misdirected when it comes to this particular book. This is a piece of mainstream, popular fiction – well done, compelling, likely earnestly conceived, but probably not intellectually important enough to warrant the sharpness of the criticism you and some of your readers have leveled at it. The book – and the author – are not claiming to be something they aren’t; instead, Cummins has been honest about her ancestry and her discomfort writing about a subject and culture with which she had very little first-hand knowledge. Personally, I’m glad she took the leap that shed did, because she achieved a very gripping story, one that ultimately says more about universal human interactions than it does about any specific culture or country.

  45. I wish I had written “Nobody Special’s” comments–pretty much word for word. If you get to read Jeanine Cummins’ previous work, you will witness this writer begins and ends her stories from a deep well of compassion. I believe every newly engaged man ought to read Jeanine’s novel Broken Branch to begin to understand the very non-romantic side of child birth. In the same book, the horror of surviving the Irish famine will stick with a reader for a lifetime. Speaking of which, the Irish famine involves a people and era that Jeanine could not have been part of, yet her research could not be far off the mark, just as American Dirt won our hearts and changed our minds. Even Trump’s followers who are “on the fence” and happen to read the book might think twice now about those folks who get arrested on the fence at the border.

    1. Thank you! Jesus! I’ve never read so much hatred! Also, just in case no one has noticed, all white women are not the same. And in case no-one has noticed, both Mexico and the US have many neglected, poverty stricken, poorly educated residents in frightening areas with thugs, criminals, and bullies threatening them daily. I found the book made me feel even more compassionate and furious than I already was about the whole migrant crisis. Many of my non-pearl clutching friends reacted in the same way I did. I doubt that Harriet Beecher Stowe spent much time as a slave, but her book sure had an impact! To me, judging what someone chooses to write about is just anti-literature. No one forces you to read a book unless it’s required for a class. Enough with the hate.

  46. Your piece is objectively good writing and includes clever storytelling to make your point, especially that scene about your roommate. I haven’t read Cummins’s book, so I’ll reserve judgment. I bought your novel today though, but I’ll warn you… my expectations are high now! 🙂 Cheers!

  47. I’m a first-generation Mexican immigrant and I hated this review. Your writing is great but you try too hard to show your self-assurance by using vulgar language. Your perspective is way off, you are not an immigrant, you are the daughter of immigrants, and have no clue what the experience of a recent immigrant to this country is. You learned to ice skate in Mexico? Guess what, that’s class privilege and most cannot afford it, you probably did thanks to your parent’s hard-earned dollars. Your experience in Mexico is totally different than the experience of a child growing up there. You went to college? that’s privilege too. Most immigrants cannot afford it. You dressed in what your roommate thought was costume clothing? You must be like those first American born generation latinos, trying so hard to find your identity you need to flaunt your “nativeness” using mexican peasant clothing to set yourself apart. Guess what? That’s a privilege too “pendeja.” When immigrants get here they struggle to fit in the best they can, no se andan con babosadas. You don’t know what being a first-generation immigrant is, especially when you come to the US as a young adult or an adult. Your privilege being a US citizen and your hate at not feeling accepted drip from your words and eviscerate the work of an author trying to create a bridge between the general American perspective and the experience of an immigrant. Yes, the perspective is off, but guess what? I would rather read more books like Dirt than works that create more divisiveness or fail to bridge the communication gap, like your review. Writers like you feel like the world owe you and must take every opportunity to remind the world at large of your perceived oppression. Got news, oppression exists everywhere and if you want to change it, do it from the inside, not the outside.

    1. I want to read Gisela’s writing way more than I do another raging blog like this one. Gisela has a real human perspective if anyone’s wondering. Lauding cursing and rage is like saying the bitterest coffee is the best (sorry Starbucks) when, by far, it’s not. Good job Gisela. Write more. Seriously.

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  49. The response to this critic confuses me. She did a great job of expressing her angst. There were three key issues to take in here:

    1. A non-Mexican wrote a novel about a Mexican experience.
    2. The novel failed to tell an authentic story about immigration from Mexico.
    3. MYRIAMGURBA read the book and then wrote an unfavorable review. That review caused the publisher to silence her. So she shared her review anyway. She also share her personal feelings. Please note only the parts tagged as the review is the review. The rest is well, chisme.

    The best part of her review discusses how “It shocks Lydia to learn that the mysterious and wealthy…” all these things are offensive. It’s like saying it shocks [insert American person] to learn Americans love baseball. Or it shocks [insert American person] to learn that Americans have ice hockey teams. That’s flat out not possible. These things alone make the book offensive. Myriam gave a fair review. It was not positive and therefore it was rejected. That says a lot about the issues with this book.

    It is acceptable for anyone to write about anything. I don’t believe this critic stated otherwise. But it is good practice to tell an authentic story. When this doesn’t happen it’s offensive. Mexicans don’t need white folk to speak for them. But no one would refuse a truly authentic story. Cummins had every right to tell the story. Myriam has every right to criticize her story.

    From my reading I can say from the first word to the last in the gripping first chapter the story could have been anywhere in the world. Telling the reader about a quinceañera party is not enough. Unfortunately, this was the problem throughout.

    Cummins purpose was all wrong. She held herself up as a solution to a geopolitical crisis. If that were truly her reasoning she could have done PSAs. There are many avenues to raising awareness. Lining your own pocket is not one of them.

    What would have served better would have been for her to edit her story, to add depth to her characters, to embed the Mexican culture and setting into her story. The story was trite.

    This was without doubt a white America ride along story. I did not enjoy reading the book, (did not finish), because it was not a story so much as it was the telling of a nightmarish experience. Even from the beginning, I didn’t connected to the characters. The first chapter confused me as I was unable to pinpoint the perspective. Although seeing things from the child’s perspective worked for a while. The present tense annoyed me. The problem premeditated throughout the book.

    Cummins book had us ride along with a bunch of faceless Mexican people. There was nothing to have me connect with or identify with anyone. Essentially, we are left where we started. With no connection to faceless people. At best the story gave reason to pity Mexicans. That’s not how you esteem people and give them face. It does the opposite. It gives reason to patronize them.

    1. There is a kind of upper-class Mexicana who really takes the cake, and this reviewer is one of them. I know the type well. Brought up in expensive schools, privileged to the max, she loves ‘splaining to everyone how it is and she is oh-so-righteous while doing so. This is upper-class privilege posing as barrio cocky and it’s really offensive, to me personally for reasons I won’t go into here. Writers don’t have to write about their own race, culture, or nationality for their work to be legitimate and they certainly don’t have to ask permission from anyone to write what they want. At the end of the day, quality literary reviews should address the merits and demerits of the work as a piece of literature. Quality literary reviews do not bombard us with the author’s personal angst, nor do they determine who gets to write what. This is not a useful review and, while I have not read American Dirt, I am already sure who I’d be more interested in knowing and its the woman who actually wrote the novel, not the woman who’s angry she didn’t.

  50. I’m curious about how you feel about podcasts like this one, done by This American Life last year.

    The journalists behind the story seem to be mostly white. There may be similar or more thorough podcasts created by Latinos. Granted this is journalism, not fiction, but I suspect that your argument can be extended to this genre as well.

    I’d love to hear what you think as well as others that are upset with the notoriety received by American Dirt.

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