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

theguardian.com – Monday February 3, 2020

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 review such a book at all. “I could never speak to the accuracy of the book’s representation of Mexican culture or the plights of migrants; I have never been Mexican or a migrant,” Lauren Groff wrote. To her horror, she discovers that the writer herself is not Mexican nor a migrant.

This well-meaning nonsense got us, the readers, nowhere. The question that a review answers is simply, is the book any good? If it were a work of nonfiction, all these questions about identity, access and the problematic “white gaze” as Groff called it, become more relevant. But American Dirt is a novel, and a thriller at that, so the angst over the accuracy of its portrayal, rather than whether the world feels authentic, seems misplaced and forced.

To read the full article on theguardian.com, click here

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