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.
Some images that appeared in the print edition of this book are unavailable in the electronic edition due to rights reasons.
The varied responses to the question "why are you poor?" fuels this meditation on the nature of poverty by journalist and National Book Award winning novelist Vollmann (Europe Central, etc.). The book, structured as a series of vignettes that span the globe and decades, describes Vollmann's encounters with individuals and families who many would consider poor. A handful of these people, including three generations of women in Thailand and two men in Japan, drive the book, as Vollmann closely examines their circumstances. His alternately sentimental and erudite inquiry is based in large part on his and their personal experience, as an antidote to the official and scientific data about poverty. Indeed, his attempt to understand poverty is deeply entwined with a more poetic inquiry into happiness. Some of the anecdotes set aflight by Vollmann's novelistic attention to details are provocative;others, however, come off as more nostalgic than illustrative, and give the book a desultory feel. But the book's movement between details and thought, spiced with Vollmann's singular style, is intriguing. On the table is not just poverty, but questions of community, fate and perspective. The book's greatest accomplishment is that unlike other works of this sort it's neither guilt producing nor guilt absolving. At the end, there's no implied sigh or self-congratulation, for writer or reader. This is the book's greatest achievement.