Poor People

William T. Vollmann, Author . Ecco $29.95 (314p) ISBN 978-0-06-087882-5

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.(Mar.)

Reviewed on: 01/22/2007
Release date: 03/01/2007
Genre: Nonfiction
Ebook - 464 pages - 978-0-06-204379-5
Paperback - 464 pages - 978-0-06-087884-9
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