Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This reminded me a bit of Thoreau's Walden in that you don't feel like Orwell had to go through with this. It's self-imposed deprivation. However, while Thoreau went on a camping trip to prove he was a hardy outdoorsman and that anybody could and should do it, Orwell put himself through his ordeal in order to investigate a situation. The same problem exists in both circumstances though. Both men could extract themselves at any time if they wished. In Orwell's situation, that means he was only experiencing the details of being poor, not fully feeling the all-but inescapable confinement of being destitute. Knowing you can't get out of a situation has a deleterious affect on one's outlook and actions.
Having said that, Orwell gets as close to the real thing as probably possible in Down and Out in Paris and London. Throughout much of the narrative, he's living hand to mouth with only the clothes on his back for possessions. The going is tough and made tougher by the prejudice people show towards a tramp.
But Orwell's a good storyteller with plenty of tales to tell. His characterizations of some quite colorful characters are a joy. So, while this topic can get heavy at times, there's enough lighthearted fun within these pages to make the reading fairly even.
Because parts of this book were admittedly embellished and other parts are clearly a factual account, it's hard to know how to shelve this and it's not always easy to trust what you're reading. I want to say that it's obvious what's real and what isn't, but seeing how some people fall hard for fake news these days, I'm hesitant to label anything "obvious".
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