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Poor People Paperback – January 22, 2008
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Top Customer Reviews
For those that are willing to work a little and not expect to be entertained Vollman is something completely different, we see him as this generations Joyce, Dickens or Melville.
Poor People shines a harsh light on another area that makes regular folks uncomfortable, and let's the people tell their story. Not in straight prose as we wish they could, but in the mutterings and actions that is all that their deprived lives provided them to work with, depriving the critics in tunr of the plots and meanings that are usually spelled out for them by the mainstream authors.
Once again as in Whores for Gloria, Rising Up and Rising Down, Europe Central and Royal Family that preceded Poor People, I find myself thinking of the nuances and implications of this book and the hard answers that Vollman refused to supply like another Chopra or Thomas L. Friedman sermon on how we should feel and what a great future we have if we don't look into the rough spots that aren't so clean and orderly.
Vollman's writing is like a bad accident in some ways, you feel guilty if you look and as if your missing something if you don't. In this case you are missing something if you don't look, one of the most important writers and thinkers of our times.
And while his questions toward his subjects are presumptive and occasionally condescending, Vollmann also deftly avoids the scientist's trap of self-defined observation and lets the humanity of his subjects shine through. Vollmann also pulls off some fairly impressive journalism here as he strolls through fearsome world locations where anthropologists fear to tread, including the mobster-infested alleys of Tokyo and an array of bars and brothels. Another treasure of this book are the 128 photographs of Vollmann's subjects, which are often unflattering, but also unassuming and brutally realistic. I am particularly haunted by many of the photos of children. If this book were a strict cultural study of poor people that attempted to propose idealistic solutions to endemic economic inequalities, I would side with many of the other reviewers here and give it the thumbs-down for its rambling and immodesty.Read more ›
When you pay someone for an interview, someone who is significantly less powerful and important than yourself, then you are stuck with two problems.
The first is that they will likely tell you what you want to know, instinctively reconfirming whatever your own prejudices or ideologies are.
I'm not saying that Vollman should not have paid his subjects, but that he should expect that they shared details of interest to him, not necessarily to themselves. It is not as if they are writing their own narratives. In fact, although Vollman in the beginning talks about speaking directly to his subjects, a lot of the book focuses on his arguments with them on the page, if not in person, and explaining to the reader in his own words why they are poor. The story of the Chernobyl victim comes to mind. Most of Vollman's sentences are descriptive and do not have his subjects speaking in their own voices.
Second, the primary question he focuses on, "Why are you poor?" perhaps ends up an embarrassing question to ask over and over to people who may feel ashamed of the need to answer that question. Why does Vollman assume that his subjects know the answer to that question, or if they do know, that they will be able to tell him?Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
For an author as prolific as Vollmann, this is a short book on a vast topic. Chapters heighten the focus of his travels and interviews--often as he credits to interpreters,... Read morePublished on March 14, 2014 by John L Murphy
This work is timeless although it's really a snapshot in time of the author's. I could recommend it to 'straights' or other clueless middle class peeps like myself. Read morePublished on September 4, 2013 by Tae from Hawaii
He asks the same question to a cross section of poor people, and through their answers gives us a clear idea of how hard life is for most of the world.Published on July 14, 2013 by phil3ip
I am almost finished reading this book. Personally, while I do understand some of the reviewers' criticisms of it, I am enjoying it. Read morePublished on December 28, 2012 by J. Smith
This is the first work I've read by Vollmann, a well-received and prodigious writer for his age when this was published; so perhaps I'm judging him unfairly. Read morePublished on November 15, 2012 by R. L. Huff
This book has sat on my shelf for years after I read a review of it somewhere. I bought it when I saw it on sale but never picked it up to read, thinking it would be dry,... Read morePublished on July 27, 2012 by skspillman
Molly Ivins once described her goal as "Afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted." William T. Read morePublished on December 18, 2010 by Cecil Bothwell