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Barbed wire, taut across handmade tiles of fanciful bluebirds in flight—such is the jacket art for American Dirt (2020) by Jeanine Cummins, its title referenced toward the end of this novel. Guatemalan migrant Soledad, fifteen years old, spits through the fence at the Nogales border and leaves some of herself in the American dirt, so desperate she is to cross over, her beauty a magnet for sexual assaults.

The author succeeds in portraying other fleshed-out migrants fleeing death-wielding cartels. Among them is Lydia, the young mother of Luca, having escaped the slaughter of her entire family at her niece’s fifteenth birthday party in Acapulco. Grief emboldens Lydia to protect her eight-year-old and flee to Tucson, not without extreme hardships and scrapes with death. However hard the migrants seek to escape, the cartels’ Intel keeps their victims within the cross-hairs of their AK47s.

Cummins’s five years of research and numerous trips to the United States-Mexican border crossings and beyond, offer an immediacy to this hostile terrain: its sights, smells, tastes, sounds, and touch wheedle themselves within readers’ imaginations and compel interest for yet another chapter.

Only Cummins’s artistry with words prevents this novel from becoming a horror binge. Much she leaves out, prompting her readers’ deeper engagement.

What surfaces from the experience of reading American Dirt remains unsettling. There seems no political/religious will to dismantle the drug cartels because of their octopus-like monitoring, because of lucrative payments to their spies, and because of their victims gunned down on the streets, overcrowding morgues. Monstrous greed sparks this human tragedy as migrants continue fleeing for their lives. Still they come.

America Dirt speaks to the present impasse at our Southern border.



“We can make it. We are going to make it!” so pressed John Lynch as he and Franka Berger struggled against insupportable odds toward freedom—both were in dire straits. Their attitude served as a leitmotif throughout Eoin Dempsey’s novel White Rose Black Forest (2018) and resonated within my practice of the 12 Steps as understood in Chronic Pain Anonymous.

The We is significant; it suggests the components of the CPA’s spiritual fellowship: solidarity, like-mindedness, willingness, honesty, and humility, in union with Higher Power’s presence. From my first phone meeting in September 2017, I’ve felt understood and supported, moving through seven hospitalizations until opting for hospice’s palliative care last November. No longer am I alone with the burden of failing lungs and other evidence of aging.

Experience of the We also occurs during daily 12-Step work with my sponsor and others suffering with chronic pain and illness. No one tires listening to symptoms and their accompanying emotional pain. No one remains stuck.

The way out requires action: can make; are going to make. Here, open-mindedness and willingness prod the overwhelmed toward a different scenario. Thanks to working Steps I, II, and III, stony attitudes begin to splinter. A bigger picture of our flawed but graced humanness emerges. We are much more than our pain or illness. Breathing becomes more normal.

And then comes it. In CPA, emotional sobriety is critical to recovering what’s left of our lives. With the rest of the 12 Steps, we relax within our limits and participate. Slips do occur but help is a phone call away; within such dialogs, Higher Power manifests. So we give thanks for another twenty-four-hour day, as did Franka and John when they made it.



Yet another harrowing read has emerged from the ruins of Nazi Germany: White Rose Black Forest (2018) by Eoin Dempsey. From the first paragraph to the last, high drama ignites questions, teases out near misses, and displays murderous violence. Grave concern for the survival of nurse Franka Berger and John Lynch, a wounded American spy wearing the captain‘s uniform of the Luftwaffe, heightens the suspense.

What gives this novel substance, though, is Dempsey’s incorporation of the White Rose—a 1942 resistance movement made up of University of Munich students and their philosophy professor. For eight months they printed and distributed pamphlets informing the populace of Hitler’s true agenda, until caught and many executed by the Gestapo. Among them was blonde, blue-eyed Franka, only spared because of her Aryan features and the prospects of her birthing children to support the Third Reich’s Thousand Year Millennium.

And the wintry Black Forest, a large mountainous region in southwest Germany, serves as a volatile character: Its blizzards, ice storms, moonlit nights, and freezing temperatures tense the plight of the pursued and their pursuers.

Donovan’s judiciously selected images and terse dialog imprint this riveting story upon his readers. With Franka and John, we identify with their bone-shuddering cold, exhaustion, hunger, and thirst; with them, we recoil from the Gestapo’s cunning.

In my perception, the noteworthy merit of White Rose Black Forest lies in activating psychic wars within our depths, where Gestapo-like insanity lurks, searching for lapses in consciousness.

In my present circumstances, vigilance is key.


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