Clare's Reviews > Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth

Payback by Margaret Atwood
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's review
Jun 19, 2009

EXCELLENT. Margaret Atwood trained as an anthropologist (I think) and her education comes through in this short and very readable treatise of sorts. I noticed my copy was due back in the library in two days, and I only wish I'd had more time to digest it. She divides her book into 5 chapters: Ancient Balances (the Egyptians, the Greeks and Romans, on debt); Debt and Sin (debt and its religious force and significance - did you know that debt and sin are the same word in Aramaic?); Debt as Plot (see most 19th century novels - plus a discussion of the Debtor/Creditor relationship, the Creditor as the Devil, unbridled capitalism galore!); The Shadow Side (REVENGE, + another look at The Merchant of Venice - the bit about loans, about Jews charging interest on loans while Christians were forbidden this practice - this went over my head when I read it in high school); and finally Payback - Nature's revenge, in which Atwood freaks the sh*t out of her reader by reminding her again of the dangers of global warming, monoagricultural practices, overpopulation, etc. etc. This includes the discovery of a 1972 L.A. Times article Atwood's mother clipped and saved in which scientists/economists predict the global economy will collapse by 2042 if growth is left unchecked. Atwood concludes with the familiar conclusion that we are all in debt and owe somebody - or, more forcefully, we owe the planet - our respect and our due. This review just skims the surface of Payback; and while much of Payback is summary, a skip through millenia and many great works of literature, Atwood really nails it. I've never been so compelled by any (actually, that's a lie - I mean most) of her other work. Really timely, too!
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