American Dirt (Oprah’s Book Club) – Book Review

También de este lado hay sueños. On this side, too, there are dreams.

Lydia Quixano Pérez lives in the Mexican city of Acapulco. She runs a bookstore. She has a son, Luca, the love of her life, and a wonderful husband who is a journalist. And while there are cracks beginning to show in Acapulco because of the drug cartels, her life is, by and large, fairly comfortable.

Even though she knows they’ll never sell, Lydia stocks some of her all-time favorite books in her store. And then one day a man enters the shop to browse and comes up to the register with a few books he would like to buy―two of them her favorites. Javier is erudite. He is charming. And, unbeknownst to Lydia, he is the jefe of the newest drug cartel that has gruesomely taken over the city. When Lydia’s husband’s tell-all profile of Javier is published, none of their lives will ever be the same.

Forced to flee, Lydia and eight-year-old Luca soon find themselves miles and worlds away from their comfortable middle-class existence. Instantly transformed into migrants, Lydia and Luca ride la bestia―trains that make their way north toward the United States, which is the only place Javier’s reach doesn’t extend. As they join the countless people trying to reach el norte, Lydia soon sees that everyone is running from something. But what exactly are they running to?

Lydia Perez Delgado’s whole family, apart from son Luca, are wiped out in an orgy of killing. Sixteen people are slaughtered. This is retribution for her journalist husband Sebastian’s article about Le Lechusa (The Owl) – Javier Crespo Fuentes) who is head of the Los Jardineros Cartel. Prior to this, Javier had spent hours in Lydia’s bookshop discussing literature and poetry with her. Lydia has no clue at this point that Javier is anything other than someone who shares her passion for books. Now, Javier is her enemy and she and Luca have to flee their comfortable life in Acapulco and seek safety in the USA.

The story is chilling, tense and well written as it charts their incredibly dangerous journey, clinging to the top of goods trains, getting robbed and ultimately paying a coyote. The characters are good though I feel more depth to Luca and in the sisters Soledad and Rebecca from Honduras who they travel with. There’s a sense of detachment in Lydia which is appropriate as it’s her way of surviving the trauma of the murders and the dangers of the journey. Her care for all three children is admirable. The younger characters have to grow up quickly in order to survive and they have to endure things no one should.There are some vivid descriptions of the dangers and the landscapes and places they travel through. They meet badness for sure but they also meet a lot of kindness and people who are prepared to help. There are several moments when your heart is in your mouth. The ending is optimistic although there’s awareness of a long road ahead for psychological recovery.