Cappelen Dam, 2016
Once, in the Amazon, it was felt I was part of being banished to a large sandbank out in the great Xingú River. The Indians were angry. They felt smart. One in the sequence was stripped glasses and a wallet. It felt threatening. It helped little with the vacuum packed salmon or the nice Mustad fishing hooks I brought from Norway. Out on the sandbank, an Indian dug out some turtle eggs which he greedily swallowed before leaving. No questions about tasting. My stomach grumbled as I lay on the ground under the mighty starry sky. Food was available, but we didn't have what it took to change it for us.
In retrospect an exotic experience. But going without food is the reality for millions worldwide, every day. It's not exotic.
Canonical. Hunger is back in the political arena – and in the literary. It can be fruitful. The Argentine writer and journalist Martín Caparrós has written a monumental work that will remain standing, both in the prose and in the canon of journalism. The book requires a certain amount appetite on the theme, as it is on massive 652 pages, and with no note taking. Yes, you should be hungry for knowledge and thirsty for justice to start this reading project at all – but if you do, you will be sucked in quickly. And you will come out at the other end of the funnel like a born-again political man who wants to act. You get personalized the incredible billion who go to bed hungry every day; the thousands of children who die daily from hunger and hunger-related illnesses get a face. It's strong.
Unique storytelling. The masterpiece here is Caparró's thoroughness. He goes to Niger, Bangladesh, India, the United States, Argentina, South Sudan and Madagascar, in search of the hungry – but also for causes, relationships, context and questions of guilt and responsibility. This is a book with high forefinger – all the time. And it points to you, and your country, and the system under which you live. Especially if you live in the West. Yes, this is a settlement with capitalism. Therefore, many politically interested readers on the right hand side will not buy the book; this is so predictable. But Caparrós serves enough ambiguity and a general demand to take responsibility for the fact that it is interesting, all the time, even for more liberalist readers. And you can easily skip single parts of the book, given that the visits to all the aforementioned countries in the southern hemisphere are cut over an equal read. The poor are coming to terms; what do they eat, what would they like to eat, what do they dream about, how are they? One tragic life story after another is rolled up, especially the women. Not only do they live in extractive communities, but they have to endure patriarchy, the men who dare and strike. And the religion. And tradition. The hell of a hell.
Modernization, yes! Capparós is not a romantic writer who thinks that everything was better in the past. On the contrary. A lot was bad. And much was worse. He says yes to modernization, including in agriculture: He will not force small farmers to remain small farmers with pick and shovel. He is not necessarily against genetically modified organisms and seeds, and he clings to what he perceives as India's great anti-modernization voice, Vandana Shiva. Yes to modernization, assuming dividend sharing is one of Capparó's mantra. Yes to cultural development – no to stagnation.
Our prosperity, their poverty. […] Oil imperialism. The Washington consensus, with the World Bank at the forefront, unfair trade rules, and now, the last penny: the land robbery.
"The hellish Afghan culture," a guilt-ridden Afghan man once said in a documentary I watched on television. A female reporter had confronted him with the miserable life this illiterate had inflicted on a young girl of 12-13 years with whom he had married. He was 65 and not necessarily interested in the marriage, but there were expectations of him from the outside world.
In Capparó's book, it is Hinduism in particular that is allowed to undergo, but none of the great traditional carriers get free, neither Christianity nor Islam.
The link between them and us. The author wants to establish links between the poverty we see in the world, leading to hunger, malnutrition, poor life and, in the worst case, premature death, and us. We have to make the link between the poor in Bihar in India and the fact that I in Oslo and you in Chicago or London live a good and peaceful life. “Establishing the connections is a crucial uprising. Or at least a small step, ”writes Capparós.
There is a small taste of Orwell's protagonist Winston Smith in 1984 here. His settlement was precisely that he manages to establish links, as unlikely and weak as they may appear. And then he becomes a danger to the system. No one is more dangerous to the order that exists than you and I, if we dare to challenge it. Maybe I'm going too far in the Capparós interpretation here? It's hard not to. He goes that far himself, but I can eventually digest all his arguments. I see the system behind all the single destinies.
Butterfly Effect. One image goes back in several places: butterfly wings that strike one place give effects another. And yes, this is a "mantra book". Caparrós is journalism's answer to Van Morrison: he uses repetition as to deaf pain, or to produce a state of mind. In this case, an anger. "How?" "How the hell?" "How the hell do we do?" "How the hell can we live with the certainty?" "How the hell do we manage to live with the knowledge that this is happening?": That the hungry devour their own bodies in a hopeless struggle to survive, before they die, young. Between repetitions, the author argues, argues and tells.
He simply knocks the connections into us. Our prosperity, their poverty. That hunger is about class. Therefore, Marx and his utopias are still important. He has seen the ugliness out there, mirrored by fellow people who are starving. A solid system failure. Oil Imperial Ice. The Washington consensus, with the World Bank at the forefront, unfair trade rules, and now, the last penny: the land robbery. Speculation about future hunger. Maybe one day we just kill them all, that is, the billion living on the bottom, the ones the market really doesn't need. Here's Capparós at his most pessimistic: "We live in a time without a future."
The present idea of our time. We lack a central political idea for our time, writes Capparós. The closest we come is the market. That's why it goes to hell, according to the author.
We still have to take away what is victorious – albeit small. For example, the UN's new sustainability goals, which will come into effect from now on, are very ambitious in their focus on hunger control, food security and sustainability. Capparós may have to blow in his beautiful mustache, but this is also part of the reality. As you know, there are two ways to see a half-full glass: as just half full, or as half empty.
In summary: Monomant, but subtly and linguistically easy to play. I get seduced and believe in the message. I'm being indignant, like Capparós. But also something more, because the author is really cursed – he banners, quite concrete. That's why I also banner – because it is widely accepted that billions of people go to bed hungry every night is unacceptable.