25 Women to Read Before You Die
 
 

Review-a-Day
Esquire
Wednesday, February 21st, 2007
Voice your opinion about this review by
posting a comment on the Powells.com blog


 

Poor People

by William T. Vollmann

A Book That Will Make You Feel Rich

A review by Ryan D'Agostino

Here is one thing you should know about William Vollmann: Esquire once hired him to write a story about the Khmer Rouge, but he blew off the assignment and went whoring across southeast Asia instead. (We published it anyway.) Here is another thing: Four years ago, he released a seven-volume manifesto (3,352 pages) on the subject of violence, which was his 13th book. Number 14, the novel Europe Central, won the National Book Award in 2005.

That's some perspective with which to examine Poor People, Vollmann's concise (294 pages!) essay on poverty. He uses the same reporting tactic that led him to the hookers, pushers, strippers, and fighters who have populated his previous works: He shows up someplace -- the grimy parking lot behind his home in Sacramento, an oil town in Kazakhstan, a Thai village -- and talks to strangers. Here, the strangers are poor, and he asks them why they are poor. Just straight-up asks.

As Vollmann struggles to make sense of their poverty, he writes with a reporter's frank detail and a novelist's grace. "Just as men carry boxes upstairs, while fat, crater-faced women sell sugarcane juice in plastic bags, just as foreigners swarm sweaty-haired or heat-defiant in the most expensive districts, just as schoolgirls in white blouses and blue miniskirts wait together for the buses, so poor people know that they were poor before they were even born," he writes from Thailand. 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.


Click here to subscribeSubscribe to Esquire and Save 75%

Get 12 fantastic issues of Esquire magazine for only $8. The best culture, entertainment, style, financial advice, women and more delivered right to your door every month ? at an incredible 81% savings off the newsstand price! What could be better... or easier?

Click here to subscribe now!

spacer
spacer
  • back to top

FOLLOW US ON...

       
Powell's City of Books is an independent bookstore in Portland, Oregon, that fills a whole city block with more than a million new, used, and out of print books. Shop those shelves — plus literally millions more books, DVDs, and gifts — here at Powells.com.