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Demosthenes's avatar

What do you think of the controversy surrounding the novel "American Dirt"?

Asked by Demosthenes (15041points) January 24th, 2020
“American Dirt” is a recent novel that chronicles the adventure of a Mexican woman and her son as they flee cartel violence in Mexico and come to the United States.

The author is an American of Puerto Rican descent. She has received much criticism for the novel, especially from Latinos and Mexican Americans, who claim that its portrayal of Mexicans is unrealistic and stereotypical and that the book, which is being hailed as ”the migrant novel”, is written in a way that seems to be clueless about real Mexican migrants and their experiences. Critics say the book is only trying to cash in on a hot button topic and isn’t an honest portrayal of the migrant experience.

The book’s controversy exploded when Oprah chose it for her book club.

As someone of Mexican descent (descended from legal immigrants) who has not read the novel, it’s hard for me to judge a book without reading it, but some of the quoted passages from the book do seem a bit cringey.

Is this book just another victim of cancel culture? Will you read the novel? Can non-Mexicans write novels about Mexican migrants?

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12 Answers

raum's avatar

Depends on what you mean by can.

Should non-Mexicans be allowed to write novels about Mexican migrants?
Sure, anyone is allowed to write a crappy book.

Are non-Mexicans capable of writing novels about Mexican migrants?
Depends on how familiar they are with the history of the culture they are trying to portray.

KNOWITALL's avatar

I probably won’t read it but to me the key word is ‘novel’.
As far as controversy, anyone can try to do a better job if they choose.

Inspired_2write's avatar

Freedom of speech and that means that YOU can write a book about the REAL story.

I think that it would be needed to clarify to the general public about what its really like.

This would be a inspiration moment for you to correct misconceptions.

I encourage you to start writing this now.

elbanditoroso's avatar

In principle, calling something “the immigrant novel” (or any other sort of “the **** novel”) is not something that happens two days after the book is released.

A serious reader would know that for a book to get that sort of recognition, it has to have been out for a while to see if it holds its weight against other novels. *So right of the bat, without having read the book, it sounds like the accolades are hyped and premature.

To the point: yes, anyone can write a book about anything. Time and acceptance will tell us whether a book is successful or not. Think of all the holocaust novels recently published by people who weren’t alive in 1945.

This sounds an argument between advertisers and people who think they own cultural identity.

janbb's avatar

I don’t know anything about this novel but the best contemporary novel of Mexican immigration that I have read and taught is by an Indian American writer, Shanti Sekaran. It is the story of a Mexican woman’s experience as a undocumented immigrant and her fight for her child who has been adopted by a second generation Indian immigrant couple. The writer, as well as using her own Indian-American background, interviewed immigrants and visited detention camps. It has the ring of truth. So I would say it can be done but there certainly may be reasons why a particular work can be criticized by those who experienced the subject firsthand.

The title of that novel is Lucky Boy.

zenvelo's avatar

I just read that apparently much American Dirt was cribbed from works by other authors.

I don’t think of this as an example of “cancel culture’ but rather criticism about Oprah choosing a poorly written book that tells a story that is not the authors’ .

Darth_Algar's avatar

I have not read it, and thus cannot comment on it.

(As an aside: the great migrant novel was published 81 years ago.)

janbb's avatar

@Darth_Algar Surely there can be mroe than one?

zenvelo's avatar

@Darth_Algar Which migrant novel was that?

Darth_Algar's avatar


There can be, but no new novel can make that claim, no matter the publicity hype. Greatness is only truly measured with the passage of time.


The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck.

janbb's avatar

@Darth_Algar I totally agree.

mazingerz88's avatar

If it’s total fiction then it’s almost anything goes.

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