Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Nonfiction Files

The Nonfiction Files is a weekly journal of my adventures reading my toppling piles of nonfiction books. I won't be posting reviews, but rather my thoughts about what I'm reading, while I'm reading it.

My current read is Where Am I Wearing by Kelsey Timmerman. If you need to catch up, you can read my first post here.

Synopsis from publisher:

Globalization makes it difficult to know where the things you buy come from. Journalist and travel writer Kelsey Timmerman wanted to know where his clothes came from and who made them, so he traveled from Honduras to Bangladesh to Cambodia to China and back. Along the way, he met the people who made his favorite clothes and learned as much about them as he did about globalization itself. Enlightening and controversial at once, this book puts a human face on globalization.

My thoughts so far:

When I left off a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I was interested to see if the author would actually be able to follow through on his intent of meeting people who might actually have made his clothes, or if he would continue to falter when it came time for the actual reporting. I'm happy to say that I am about 2/3 of the way through the book, and he has definitely stepped up his game.

Timmerman travels to Bangladesh, where the label says his boxer shorts were made, and meets Dalton, worker in the only Motorola cell phone store in the country, who helps him get in contact with warehouse supervisors in the garment district. He spends the day with Arifa, a worker in a clothing factory, and meets Sapon, a garment subcontractor who is not at all the "evil sweatshop lord" Timmerman was expecting.

Next, he travels to Cambodia, manufacturer of his Levi's, and spends time with Nari and 7 other young women who work in a jeans factory, and share a 96-square-foot home. He also meets several people who spend their days digging in the trash dump for items that can be recycled, who wish they could get a job making jeans.

Over and over, Timmerman meets people whose job making clothing for horrible pay, working extremely long days in poor conditions, is the salvation of their family. People who paid a "labor shark" to secure them a job in a garment factory. Those of us who live privileged lives can't imagine sleeping four to a bed, or 16 to a shower, but many around the world consider themselves lucky to have achieved that status.

"Not having children make our clothes does not eliminate the reality that many children in Bangladesh must work, but it eliminates our guilt in the matter. It clears our conscience and helps us forget that we live in such a world.

Does a mother who sends her eight-year-old daughter off for a day of picking up plastic bottles, or begging, or working in a factory love her daughter any less than a mother in the United States who sends her daughter to school? Is she being immoral? My own conclusion, after visiting Bangladesh, is that we should not be ashamed that are clothes are made by children so much as ashamed that we live in a world where child labor is often necessary for survival."

As with many issues in life, it becomes clear that this one is not necessarily black and white. Timmerman's journey to discover who makes his clothes has been fascinating so far, and I'm interested to see what his conclusions will be at the end of his travels.

(all quotes are from an uncorrected proof - they may change slightly in the finished copy.)


tea said...

I have never heard of this book. It really sounds interesting. I like reading your comments too.

bermudaonion said...

I thought this book was very thought provoking. When asked the workers said they don't want people to stop buying their products. I think we need to put our money where are mouths are and be willing to pay more for products (even if it means we have less products) so that people can earn a living wage.

Diane said...

I've been trying to read a lot more non fiction; this one sounds good.

Zibilee said...

I really want to read this book. I am not much of a non-fiction reader, but this book seems to ask a lot of the questions that I have had about overseas sweatshops. Great review!

violetcrush said...

It really made me angry before when I saw young children working. But then I saw children begging and now I believe that working is so much better. At least it will keep them from all the vices that surround them and put a little food in their mouths.

Elizabeth said...

tea - thank you!

bermuda - I thought that was so interesting - all of the workers want us to keep buying their products. Did you ever look at any of the websites he listed at the back of the book?

Diane - it's a great nonfiction choice, because it reads so well.

Zibilee - it's a good choice for someone who doesn't read a lot of nonfiction, because the tone is very conversational. If you are already interested in the topic, I bet you'd like it.

Violet - He mentioned that several times - if they are making clothes, at least they are not begging. It's such a difficult issue!

Monique said...

I have never hear of this book but your review is great. I am going to put it on my wish TBR list.