Margot's Reviews > The Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City

The Mole People by Jennifer Toth
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Mar 30, 2009

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Read in March, 2009

In The Mole People, Jennifer Toth's stated goal is "to dismiss the myth of animal-like underground dwellers."(x) Her journalistic approach to telling the stories of New York's underground homeless population includes a bit of statistical reports and cultural & historical context among the personal tales of life in the train and subway tunnels. As she gets to know the members of this invisible population, Toth examines her own cultural lens and judgments as an educated woman with white privilege. We learn about the backgrounds of people who find their best option is to move underground, whether for safety or escape, away from the dangers of life on the streets or the threat of legal repercussions.

While reading this book, I was amazed at Jennifer Toth's audacity and bravery at overcoming a fear that many of us "upstairs" have of those living on the margins of society. Her young age (she researched and wrote this in her early twenties) and status as a woman put her in danger in the tunnels, and several times in the book she mentions being warned away by tunnel dwellers because of the danger. Some of the book gets to be a bit repetitive, which is an outcome of the organization of the book into topical chapters, and some topics are covered several times in different sections.

I have read a couple of critiques of the validity of Toth's book, and Toth herself mentions the denials and disinformation related to underground homeless. The book was published 16 years ago, and I don't plan to enter the tunnels to check.

Here is a link to photos of one of the tunnels, with the graffiti murals on the walls. Toth also interviewed several graffiti artists during her research.

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