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Chris Blocker

Literary snobbery and other thoughts by Chris Blocker

Review: Nomadland

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century - Jessica Bruder

Nomadland by Jessica Bruder succeeds in providing knowledge about the culture of older Americans forced to work terrible jobs and live in vehicles. It's a story most readers likely are unfamiliar with, outside of the similarities it shares with tales of migrants from another time and place. These transient seniors are being employed by the droves at beet farms, amusement parks, and Amazon warehouses.

As much an exploration of nomadic seniors, Nomadland is also a searing exploration of what goes on behind the doors at Amazon’s largest facilities. Given Amazon’s chokehold on the publishing industry, it’s a surprise they have allowed this book to exist. Of course, they are aware that even if the abysmal conditions of these facilities became known by the masses, the overwhelming majority would just say, “I can’t afford to go anywhere else.” (Which is frankly, for most us, complete bullshit.)

Bruder’s politics are implied in Nomadland, but never touched upon directly. While this separation keeps the book from becoming one-sided, it also prevents it from becoming as damning as it might have otherwise been. I’m not saying one choice was better than the other, but I do think the lack of commitment shows, preventing the book from achieving its fullest potential.

Lastly, I want to touch on Nomadland as a complete, banded work. Initially, I struggled to get into this book. The opening chapters lack a clear direction or narrative. It felt more like a string of magazine articles that were pieced together. Eventually, it does feel like Bruder found her story and begins to chase it, the random pieces gel into a semi-cohesive work. It’s not enough to really pull this narrative together, but it provides a sufficient survey of the subject.

Recommended strongly for those who like journalistic writing or are particularly interested in economics, poverty, and sociology.