cover image Hunger: The Oldest Problem

Hunger: The Oldest Problem

Martín Caparrós, trans. from the Spanish by Katherine Silver. Melville House, $29.99 (544p) ISBN 978-1-61219-804-0

Global hunger is the great moral issue of our time, argues this vehement but unfocused jeremiad. Argentine journalist and novelist Caparrós (El Hambre) profiles a woman in arid Niger who dreams of owning a cow; a mother working in a Bangladesh factory; scavengers picking through garbage in Buenos Aires; homeless Chicagoans at food pantries; and Doctors Without Borders physicians treating the ravages of malnutrition, among others. His reportage is stark and moving as people describe their struggles to survive and, heartbreakingly, the deaths of their children from starvation and disease. Caparrós’s analysis of the problem is less forceful, however. He writes perceptively of poor people made “disposable” by globalization, but his discussions of food issues like GMOs and commodity markets are confused and his statistics sometimes untrustworthy. (Life expectancy in Zambia is 63 years, according to the World Bank, not 38 years, as he suggests.) His erratic critique of international food policy denounces “the barbarity of capitalism” and satirizes Western callousness through imagined “voices of the tribe” (“I’ve got enough problems without going around thinking about those poor bastards in Africa”), but never musters a coherent agenda beyond changing the “social model” in order to end world hunger. Caparrós offers an effective polemic on the horrors of hunger, but little clear thinking on how to end it. (Jan.)