We know George Orwell through Animal Farm and 1984. But you will be missing out if you don’t read his essays, nonfiction, diaries and his first book, Down and Out in Paris and London. What you’ll find is an extraordinary person and writer, who blends an engaging prose style with first-hand reporting.
I’ve been reading Diaries and Down and Out in Paris and London at the same time. This is his first book, a memoir, published in 1933. His prose is seamless. The sense of who he is comes through clearly—honest, intelligent and open to everyone he meets.
I don’t believe I’ve ever read such a realistic portrait of poverty in fiction or nonfiction.
It starts with Paris where he lives in complete poverty. He goes days without food. It seems almost impossible to land a job. He pawns everything for a piece of bread. His room is filthy and filled with bugs.
He has a keen eye for life around him. He meets a variety of characters, but it is Boris, a former Russian military man with waiter experience, who adds an abundance of color and humor into the down and out experience in Paris.
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In London, the homeless are not allowed to stay in one place for more than one or two nights, so Orwell wanders along with a fellow “tramps.” Again a variety of characters populate Orwell’s harsh world. There is stealing and deterioration, but also honesty and uplifting human connections, particularly notable is a crippled storyteller, philosopher and street painter named Bozo.
Of course, you can’t help but think about how much we have, when I got up to eat some blueberries I purchased at Trader Joes, while reading Down and Out in Paris and London, George Orwell’s delve into poverty and the homeless.
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