American Dirt: Proof Why Literature Is The Deepest of The Arts


FUsually, it takes years and decades for a novel or a collection of poetry before being classified as literature. That is so because the purists believe that a work has to stand the test of time.

Nevertheless, I would put American Dirt, the latest novel from Jeanine Cummins in that hallowed category.

Standing the test of time is right. But equally essential is to illuminate the issues of one’s own time in a profound yet emotionally resonant way.

In my book, the central issue of our time is inequality.

Inequality in human society has been around since time immemorial.

Why then do I think it is the central issue facing us today. Why does it have “the fierce urgency of now”? An urgency that ratchets up every day, every place that it is left unaddressed.

The paradox is that it is the plentitude of our age that leads to this core crisis of our age: The Inequity of Inequality.

Progress in science and technology has lead to leaps in productivity that can support a comfortable life for every man, woman and child in the world.

Instead, we have increasing inequality of income between nations and within nations between classes and communities.

Instead, we have the rapacious greed of the rich and the shameless leading inexorably to a climate catastrophe.

A symptom of the current universal madness that grips the world is the crisis of forced migration of millions. Terrorised families and children fleeing from hotspots in the Middle East — Syria, Yemen etc. — and South America — Mexico, Venezuela, Columbia, Honduras — not is the search of a better life but only life — to live without starvation and death staring at them every minute.

And instead of those who have plenty welcoming these dispossessed with open arms, we have the well-to-do in Europe and the US respond with fear. Fear of sharing their prosperity and well-being with others. Fear that sharing will diminish. Forgetting the lessons that history has tried to teach us again and again that it is fear and greed that reduce while hope and generosity elevate.

American Dirt is a classic not just because it grips with the drama of a mother and her eight-year-old son’s bid to escape death as they flee of a drug lord massacres their entire family. It is a classic not just because every page in the book has a vignette and an insight into human nature that is on par with anything else you will find in any of our great, canonical works. To my mind, it is a classic because it shines a light on the essential truth that the generosity of spirit is the key to heaven — the heaven that is ever-present at the core of our being and waiting for us to unlock the door and step in. And the core gift of American Dirt is it leads teh reader to a realisation that this generosity of spirit — this key to the heaven within — is accessible to all of us, all the time. Even in the direst of circumstances. We can share even when we have little. We can strive to ignite hope when all seems lost. And that it will be this same generosity of spirit that will rescue humanity from its current crises — terrorism, nationalism, racism, poverty, climate change — and allow human civilisation to reach for the next stage of our evolution.

I am currently reading two other books — both non-fiction — which both promise to be in the instant classic class that American Dirt is. They also address critical issues facing our current era. I look forward to posting about them once I have completed reading them. If you have the time and inclination here are their titles:

Twilight of Democracy: The Failure of Politics and The Parting of Friends by Anne Applebaum

Caste: The Lies That Divide Us by Isabel Wilkerson

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store