59 pages 1 hour read

Jeanine Cummins

American Dirt

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2020

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Important Quotes

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“Luca concentrates on breathing, in and out, without sound. He tells himself that this is just a bad dream, a terrible dream, but one he’s had many times before. He always awakens, heart pounding, and finds himself flooded with relief. It was just a dream.” 


(Chapter 1, Page 3)

Luca’s young mind cannot process the reality of the massacre as it unfolds around him. His only points of reference for the fear he is experiencing are nightmares. Unlike Luca’s bad dreams, however, there is no waking up from the violence Javier unleashed on his family. The passage not only provides insights into how Luca copes with fear, it also foreshadows the hardships he and Lydia experience during their journey north, which reads like an unending nightmare.

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“It might be better for him to go and look, to see the brilliant splatters of color on Yénifer’s white dress, to see Adrián’s eyes, open to the sky, to see Abuela’s gray hair, matted with stuff that should never exist outside the neat encasement of a skull. It might be good, actually, for Luca to see the warm wreckage of his recent father, the spatula bent crooked beneath his fallen weight, his blood still leaching across the concrete patio. Because none of it, however horrific, is worse than the images Luca will conjure instead with the radiance of his own imagination.”


(Chapter 2 , Page 7)

With its descriptive details and strong imagery, this passage makes a simple point: imagination is worse than reality. The horrifying sight of 16 dead bodies doesn’t come close to what Luca imagines awaits in the backyard. Cummins draws on this idea at other points in the novel, notably, during Soledad and Rebeca’s rape. She describes the events leading up to and following the assault, but not the rape itself, a tactic that leaves the worst to the reader’s imagination.

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“If I had met you in a different life, I would ask you to marry me.”


(Chapter 4, Page 28)

Javier’s feelings for Lydia are central to the novel. His primary motivation for having her family murdered is revenge for Marta’s suicide. His romantic feelings toward Lydia, however, are also part of the equation. Javier interprets Sebastián’s inclusion of his poem in the exposé as a personal betrayal by Lydia.

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Related Titles

By Jeanine Cummins