Jan 31 2020
Ron Charles in The Washington Post
This is what we’ve come to. The publisher of American Dirt, a novel by Jeanine Cummins, has cancelled the remainder of a national book tour because Cummins and the bookstores set to host her have received threats of physical violence. And one of the critics who reviewed Cummins’s novel has received death threats. This is what we’ve come to. In the United States of America. More than 30 years after the Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa demanding the assassination of Salman Rushdie for writing The Satanic Verses, here we are terrorizing our own writers. As I noted last week, American Dirt is a melodramatic thriller about a Mexican woman and her 8-year-old son running from a deadly drug lord. Critics had raised smart, illuminating objections to the novel’s stereotypes and clumsiness. Cummins was taken to task for appropriating the story of Mexican migrants and exploiting their suffering. And other writers noted the deleterious effects of wrapping such mawkish racial stereotypes in sweet nuggets for a largely white, ill-informed audience. But now all those insightful observations — and the novel that sparked them — have been drowned out by a culture of violence. Honestly, I’m feeling deeply discouraged about the state of our civil society.