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Original Essays | September 15, 2014

Lois Leveen: IMG Forsooth Me Not: Shakespeare, Juliet, Her Nurse, and a Novel



There's this writer, William Shakespeare. Perhaps you've heard of him. He wrote this play, Romeo and Juliet. Maybe you've heard of it as well. It's... Continue »
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Poor People

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Poor People Cover

 

Review-A-Day

"As Vollmann struggles to make sense of their poverty, he writes with a reporter's frank detail and a novelist's grace....Vollmann obviously cares deeply about the problem of poverty; he offers a few solutions and asks some important questions. But in the end, you get the sense that the way he really thinks he can help poor people is by reminding us that they're alive." Ryan D'Agostino, Esquire (read the entire Esquire review)

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

because i was bad in my last life.
because allah has willed it.
because the rich do nothing for the poor.
because the poor do nothing for themselves.
because it is my destiny.
These are just some of the answers to the simple yet groundbreaking question William T. Vollmann asks in cities and villages around the globe: Why are you poor? In the tradition of James Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, Vollmann's Poor People struggles to confront poverty in all its hopelessness and brutality, its pride and abject fear, its fierce misery and its quiet resignation. Poor People allows the poor to speak for themselves, explaining the causes and consequences of their impoverishment in their own cultural, social, and religious terms.

There is the alcoholic mother in Buddhist Thailand, sure that her poverty is punishment for transgressions in a former life, and her ten-year-old daughter, whose faith in her own innocence gives her hope that her sin in the last life was simply being rich. There is the Siberian-born beggar who pins her woes on a tick bite and a Gypsy curse more than a half century ago, and the homeless, widowed Afghan women who have been relegated to a respected but damning invisibility. There are Big and Little Mountain, two Japanese salarymen who lost their jobs suddenly and now live in a blue-tarp hut under a Kyoto bridge. And, most haunting of all, there is the faded, starving beggar-girl, staring empty-eyed on the back steps of Bangkok's Central Railroad Station, whose only response to Vollmann's query is simply, I think I am rich.

The result of Vollmann's fearless journey is a look at poverty unlike any other. Complete with more than 100 powerfully affecting photographs — taken of the interviewees by the author himself — this series of vignettes and searing insights represents a tremendous step toward an understanding of this age-old social ill. With intense compassion and a scrupulously unpatronizing eye, Vollmann invites his readers to recognize in our fellow human beings their full dignity, fallibility, pride, and pain, and the power of their hard-fought resilience.

Review:

"I recently reconnected with a woman I met 23 years ago and interviewed for more than a year. In 1984, she was an 18-year-old single mother of a 3-year-old boy and lived in Washington Highlands, one of the District's poorest and most isolated communities. She and her son had been briefly homeless the year before.

She married a couple of years after I wrote about her, had two additional... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review)

Review:

"For all the sorrow Vollmann catalogs, his persistent and compassionate pursuit of the truth reminds us of all that we share as human beings and all that we can do for each other." Booklist (Starred Review)

Review:

"Snapshots of people no one wants to think about, written with great candor by someone unafraid to reveal his own fears and prejudices." Kirkus Reviews

Review:

"The best parts of Poor People, like a 1995 episode in the Philippines called 'The Rider,' are the self-contained ones: anecdotal, sharply observant, playful, unpretentious and frankly ambivalent about Mr. Vollmann's presence on the page." Janet Maslin, New York Times

Synopsis:

A National Book Award-winning author travels the globe and meets with impoverished individuals where they live to document firsthand the causes and effects of poverty. Two 16-page photo inserts.

Synopsis:

That was the simple yet groundbreaking question William T. Vollmann asked in cities and villages around the globe. The result of Vollmann's fearless inquiry is a view of poverty unlike any previously offered.

Poor People struggles to confront poverty in all its hopelessness and brutality, its pride and abject fear, its fierce misery and quiet resignation, allowing the poor to explain the causes and consequences of their impoverishment in their own cultural, social, and religious terms. With intense compassion and a scrupulously unpatronizing eye, Vollmann invites his readers to recognize in our fellow human beings their full dignity, fallibility, pride, and pain, and the power of their hard-fought resilience.

About the Author

William T. Vollmann is the author of seven novels, three collections of stories, and the seven-volume critique of violence, Rising Up and Rising Down. His most recent novel, Europe Central, won the National Book Award in 2005. He has also won the PEN Center USA West Award for Fiction, a Shiva Naipaul Memorial Prize, and a Whiting Writers' Award. His journalism and fiction have been published in the New Yorker, Esquire, Spin, and Granta. Vollmann lives in Sacramento.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 1 comment:

carlsonh, February 29, 2008 (view all comments by carlsonh)
I found William Vollman to be extemely insensitive toward the numerous poor people he "interviewed" in many different countries. These people were the wretched underbelly of each place, most of them illiterate. homeless or nearly so, beggars, prostitutes, addicts, and generally on their last legs.
He paid them a pittance to answer such questions of "why are you poor" and "why are some people rich". Most were flabbergasted at the questions. They were unlikely to have spent time philosophizing about their lives. They were the underbelly of urban life, many of them homeless or nearly so.
Vollman used interpreters, most of whom were openly contemptous toward the poor people he was trying to interview. Some did not even interpret except to say that the interviwee was lying. There seems to no control over the bias in interpreters.There also was the possibility of the poor answering questions in a manner they thought would please the interviewers. They were desperately poor and he was rich, so the imbalance of power is very real.
Vollman states that "Poverty is not political." However, his book demonstrates the devastation falling on people following political decisions that impact most heavily on the poorest of the poor.
I also found that he seemed to have no ethical issues with taking photographs of homeless drunken or sick people lying in the streets or alleys in foul weather. People have the right to dignity no matter how wretched their conditions are. I doubt that he woke them up to pay them.
Overall, I found the book to be exploitive of poor people and I can only wonder if some of the profits will be donated to privide some aid, at least for the wretched children displayed in pictures.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780060878849
Author:
Vollmann, William T.
Publisher:
Harper Perennial
Author:
by William T. Vollmann
Author:
by William T. Vollmann
Subject:
Poverty
Subject:
Poor
Subject:
Sociology-Poverty
Edition Description:
Trade PB
Publication Date:
20080122
Binding:
Paperback
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
Y
Pages:
464
Dimensions:
9 x 6 x 1.16 in 17.44 oz

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
History and Social Science » American Studies » Poverty
History and Social Science » Sociology » Poverty

Poor People New Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$16.95 In Stock
Product details 464 pages Harper Perennial - English 9780060878849 Reviews:
"Review A Day" by , "As Vollmann struggles to make sense of their poverty, he writes with a reporter's frank detail and a novelist's grace....Vollmann obviously cares deeply about the problem of poverty; he offers a few solutions and asks some important questions. But in the end, you get the sense that the way he really thinks he can help poor people is by reminding us that they're alive." (read the entire Esquire review)
"Review" by , "For all the sorrow Vollmann catalogs, his persistent and compassionate pursuit of the truth reminds us of all that we share as human beings and all that we can do for each other."
"Review" by , "Snapshots of people no one wants to think about, written with great candor by someone unafraid to reveal his own fears and prejudices."
"Review" by , "The best parts of Poor People, like a 1995 episode in the Philippines called 'The Rider,' are the self-contained ones: anecdotal, sharply observant, playful, unpretentious and frankly ambivalent about Mr. Vollmann's presence on the page."
"Synopsis" by , A National Book Award-winning author travels the globe and meets with impoverished individuals where they live to document firsthand the causes and effects of poverty. Two 16-page photo inserts.
"Synopsis" by , That was the simple yet groundbreaking question William T. Vollmann asked in cities and villages around the globe. The result of Vollmann's fearless inquiry is a view of poverty unlike any previously offered.

Poor People struggles to confront poverty in all its hopelessness and brutality, its pride and abject fear, its fierce misery and quiet resignation, allowing the poor to explain the causes and consequences of their impoverishment in their own cultural, social, and religious terms. With intense compassion and a scrupulously unpatronizing eye, Vollmann invites his readers to recognize in our fellow human beings their full dignity, fallibility, pride, and pain, and the power of their hard-fought resilience.

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