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Ian O'Doherty: 'A simple work of fiction or a disgraceful act of cultural appropriation?'


Jeanine Cummins

Jeanine Cummins

Jeanine Cummins

It was one of the most eagerly anticipated novels of the year.

Stephen King praised it. John Grisham said it was brilliant. Oprah picked it for her book club.

The author received a whopping seven-figure advance and the movie rights were sold for another large sum.

Up to last week, everything looked rosy for Jeanine Cummins and her book, American Dirt.

The tale of a woman struggling through Mexico on her way to America was hailed as a "groundbreaking insight into the modern migration story".

Then everything went kablooey as the author had her speaking engagements cancelled amid death threats and protests.

Why the sudden turnaround? Well, as soon as it was discovered that Cummins is not actually Mexican but an American with Puerto Rican heritage, accusations of cultural appropriation began to swirl around her baffled head.

One reviewer was apoplectic at such "stealing of our stories" and in the frenzied culture wars which are currently destroying America and much of the West, Cummins merely became the latest victim.

There were several undeniable criticisms of the book, which mostly concerned some minor factual discrepancies and inaccurate phrases. But the heat was really all about the fact that a predominantly white American woman, whose husband was Irish, had the temerity to write about a story that wasn't from 'her' culture

There's one obvious retort to all the brouhaha - it's a work of fiction, of the writer's imagination and invention, and it doesn't claim to be a memoir or a work of fact.

We're all in trouble if authors are only allowed to write about their own experience.

Who wants to live in that dull world?

Indo Review