When Bob joined a phone company in 1963, he spent his workdays driving around the island while “Blue Velvet” and “Surfin’ USA” played on the radio waves. Over his lunch breaks, he would stop for a slice at Denino’s Pizzeria, then lay down in the back of his truck and get lost in a novel until it was time to head off for the next job. “Cat’s Cradle,” “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Catch-22” were his all-time favorites.
These days, Bob enjoys spending time with his grandchildren, looking after his impressive tomato garden and reading historical fiction. He’s been thinking a lot about his forebears these days, many of whom immigrated to the United States from Europe around the turn of the century. He’d like to learn more about the experiences they had and the sacrifices they made so that he, his children and grandchildren could appreciate the privileged lives they have today.
What recommendation would be both enjoyable and useful to him?
I’m a big historical fiction fan myself, and I love learning about the past. When I choose a book, I’m looking for something with a bit of grit to it – a story that shows how life was, nothing too sappy. I recently discovered Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, and I think you’d love it.
The story takes place around 1900, and it’s about a Lithuanian family that has just arrived in America, with dreams of working hard to build a new, prosperous life for themselves. Things are looking good when all the family members quickly find work in the meatpacking districts of Chicago and even manage to buy a home. But they soon learn that not everything is rosy in the land of opportunity: Before they know it, scams, intimidation and exploitations land them in abject poverty. And it’s not just the new arrivals who suffer; the novel exposes the horrific working conditions and complete lack of hygiene in the slaughterhouses that put toxic food on the dinner table of many other average Americans, too.
Sinclair’s story caused public outcry and is credited for birthing the United States’ Food and Drug Administration. The novel is not only a moving portrait of the struggles industrious newcomers overcame to establish themselves in the new world. It is also an important reminder that all progress comes at a cost and requires not only economic and social but also political action such as regulations and practices to safeguard workers and consumers.
So, Bob, I hope The Jungle tells you the eye-opening and inspiring tale you’re looking for. Happy reading!