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Peter van Buren has been a regular guest here for over 2 years, since he published We Meant Well about his year in occupied Iraq. His new novel, Ghosts of Tom Joad, gives voice to the desperation of today's minimum wage workers in a big box world.Listen to this podcast for extra bonus book offer for new annual subscribers for a warmly signed copy of Ghosts of Tom Joad.
Van Buren was forced into retirement from a 24-year career at the State Department in retaliation for his disturbing/amusing account of squandering reconstruction dollars in Iraq. No secrets were revealed, he just embarrassed his boss, who was named Hillary Clinton. Van Buren continues to offer cogent commentary on news and policy, which you can find here.
His new book is presented as fiction, but based on his work at a series of low-wage jobs since he left the State Department. Invoking the legacy of Steinbeck, Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent is a Grapes of Wrath for these times.
The author and your humble host both are from Ohio, where the story is set in the fictional town of Reeve. Like many one-company towns all over America, Reeve had a light manufacturing company that was its main employer. When the plant shut down, the downward spiral was under way.
This interview won't spoil the book for you, but van Buren gives the same vivid accounts of life at 7 bucks an hour: it's not just young, unskilled employees, the working poor subsist with food stamps and other benefits that subsidize the tight-fisted employers, and the costs imposed by banks, employers and high-interest lenders on our lowest paid workers on payday, to name a few. And near the end, van Buren offers a matter-of-fact description of the slide into homelessness.
Find more information on the new novel here.