Cummins anticipated this criticism in an unusually frank author’s note, explaining that she wrote the novel because she was “frustrated by the tenor of the public discourse surrounding immigration”. She was worried that “as a non-migrant and non-Mexican”, she had “no business” writing it, but was persuaded when a Mexican academic told her, “We need as many voices as we can get telling this story.”

The book got off to a flying start; Oprah selected it for her book club, Ann Patchett and Stephen King endorsed it and early reviews were good. Then critics, many of them Latin American, started to attack the book, describing it as “trauma porn” and pointing to factual inaccuracies (none of them major). They accused Cummins of cultural appropriation and urged people to read books by Mexican writers instead.

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Should you read American Dirt? Yes. It is a fast-paced thriller which has at its heart the love of a mother for her child. It gave me an insight into a world I knew nothing about. Yes, I would like to read Mexican authors as well, and to see greater diversity in the publishing industry, but I don’t believe writers should only detail their own firsthand experiences. How impoverished would our literature be if that was the rule?

To read more from Good Weekend magazine, visit our page at The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and Brisbane Times.



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