Arjun Mishra's Reviews > Down and Out in Paris and London

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell
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M 50x66
's review
May 09, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: history, literature

I read this in one sitting. Rather, I devoured it. Orwell's writing is that good. This reads part anthropology and part journalism of the best kind. It is a telling expose into poverty in Paris and London during the Great Depression.

What hit me immediately is that there was such a strong sense of nationalism and superiority among those who were down and out. They were poor, on the edge of death, struggling to find food, and yet they clung to these meaningless national stereotypes. No matter what, they always found ways to bolster their own nationality and insult others. This surprised me because it seemed like such an intellectual exercise that is unbecoming of impoverished bodies. Stereotypes abound about Jews, Armenians, Greeks, Arabs, French, etc. It is difficult to tell that these vagabonds even identify or feel the nationality that they are. They are not what comes to mind when thinking of a certain nationality.

Orwell's description of being poor is hard-hitting and poignant. He conveys the fear of poverty and its travails. He communicates the 18 hours of work a day, the miserable conditions, the impossibility of social mobility. Life is flat, stagnant, and despicable in Paris and London.

I found Paris to be much more of a compelling situation that London, but that might have been because Orwell had to write about finding jobs, retaining them, working with new cheap businesses, and roaming about with Boris. Nobody in London quite matches Boris, though Paddy comes close.

In a day of shortened attention spans and infinite distractions, I think it is significant that I read this one sitting. It is a testament to Orwell's power and cutting perspicacity as a writer.

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