Headline imprint Tinder Press has acquired American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins in a "very competitive" auction.
The "page turner and literary triumph" which is set to be the imprint's lead title in 2020 is about a mother and her young son as they flee across Mexico to escape a drug cartel that murdered the rest of their family and as they attempt to cross the US border.
It went for a seven-figure advance to Flatiron Books in the US after a nine-way auction. Translation deals are meanwhile being struck around the world, with "major interest" reported in the film rights.
Publisher Mary-Anne Harrington, who acquired British Commonwealth rights in the novel from Caspian Dennis at Abner Stein, called it "the best mother and child on the run story I’ve read since Room."
"I learned so much from it, in particular about la bestia, the trains migrants ride illegally to reach the border," she said. "Every 21 hours a person dies attempting to cross into the US from Mexico. American Dirt reveals the human face behind those headlines, and Jeanine Cummins has written an unforgettable novel that really resonates with our times."
She added the reaction to the book in-house was "one of the most compelling I’ve seen in my career".
"Our Australian team came back to me in hours and said they hardly dared draw breath as they read, and our sales and publicity teams just wouldn’t leave me alone: we had to have this book! We’re going to make sure that publication in 2020 is unmissable, a real international publishing moment," she said.
A "major" international publicity and marketing campaign is planned, including an author visit to the UK.
Cummins, who worked for 10 years in US publishing and is the author of two previous novels and a memoir, researched the background to American Dirt by spending time in the borderlands and listening to the personal stories of migrants and those who support them.
She said: "The more I listened, the more compelled I felt to write this novel. It was daunting at first, but it’s thrilling now to see the book provoke such a passionate response in the publishing world."