The Guardian

American Dirt’s problem is bad writing, not cultural appropriation | Nesrine Malik

Well-meaning critics of a novel about a mother and son fleeing a cartel in Mexico have missed the point: is it any good?
‘A smash hit story about Mexicans must be about cartels and migrants.’ Author Jeanine Cummins (second left) with Oprah Winfrey and hosts of CBS This Morning, January 2020. Photograph: CBS Photo Archive/CBS via Getty Images

Sometimes, allies can be more harmful than enemies. American Dirt, a novel about a mother and son fleeing a drugs cartel in Mexico, has the literary world clutching its pearls. The problem? Does the writer, Jeanine Cummins (whose grandmother is Puerto Rican but who has identified as white) have the right (or the ability) to portray an authentic Mexican story? The background of the author, something that should have been an irrelevant matter, became the focal point of reviews.

In the New York Times, a white reviewer agonised over whether it was her place to. To her horror, she discovers that the writer herself is not Mexican nor a migrant.

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