This book left me feeling depressed and bereft for a number of days. I wonder if anyone has ever been so bald before in revealing America’s most heinous errors of judgment and fairness. In the Introduction, Hedges writes that Sacco and he started out to look closely at the “sacrifice zones” in parts of America that have been areas of exploitation and neglect. It is horrifying, but necessary information.
This book is a collaboration between two highly talented individuals who separately have achieved international reputations for looking at how we live, how we resolve conflict, and how the system seems to develop “forgotten areas” where human rights are not as they were promised, and are not what many of us enjoy.
They start with the Indians, American Indians. Just saying the name already develops in us a sense of wariness. We’ve heard…but these men stare. They investigate. They conclude. The conditions of their survival are completely heartbreaking. We do more for bison than we do for native Americans, and I am not talking about government “handouts.” I have long thought that these folks should be dukes and duchesses in the supposedly classless American society instead of reviled and degraded, and reading the report of these two men makes me even more sure that we can hardly right the wrongs without changing something fundamental in our thinking.
The book has five parts. In four of those parts, Hedges and Sacco look at different areas of the country, but also areas of our discriminatory behaviors…places like Camden, New Jersey “left for dead” while others areas of the country carry on with growth and abundance. It is disgusting to read about, and even more disgusting to realize no one can really talk this away by blaming it on the folks that are suffering. These are national problems.
Sacco’s work as a graphic artist is brilliant and unforgettable. You may remember his work from several books on the Middle East (Palestine, Footnotes in Gaza) or his work on Yugoslavia (Safe Area Goražde: The War in Eastern Bosnia, 1992-1995, or War's End: Profiles from Bosnia, 1995-1996). He literally illustrates the lives people lead in these crisis areas and dares us to turn away. What he chooses to draw in these chapters is clearly clipped from reality. If a picture is worth a thousand words, he has written an opus.
This book is an unusual collaboration that reads like a gut-punch. The last chapter talks about Occupy Wall Street, how it began, how it spread, what it means. The occupation in Zuccotti Park began during the last months of the writing of this book, and in Hedges’ words, “permitted us to end our work with the capacity for hope.” Perhaps so. For weeks I could not see or hear of indignities in our daily life without thinking of this book. It is instructive, and truly horrifying. Should definitely go on high school reading lists, but really we should all read this.
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