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Hungry Men (English Edition) Kindle-editie
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Hungry Men's main character, Acel Stecker, is an erstwhile band leader who has decided to go "on the bum". His life consists of traveling from place to place largely by hitchhiking or hopping freight trains, continually risking jail time for vagrancy. Well, that isn't entirely true. Parts of the book find Acel spending significant amounts of time in New York, New Orleans and Chicago.
Anderson tells it like it was. He neither glorifies nor condemns the lifestyles of the hoboes and other rootless transients that populate Hungry Men. This is a revealing depiction of the early 1930s told from a unique perspective. Highly recommended.
Hungry Men is an account of the young hobo Acel, who was once a small-time musician and is now penniless. It's a brutal look at the 30's and it's chapters are short and establish different moments in Acel's traveling and the many alliances he forms. I found the friendships between the bums interesting--symbiotic as each tries to bring something to the relationship that makes him of value; meanwhile the friendship provides a sense of protection against policemen, railroad bulls, and politicians. The social dynamics make the book very interesting. Acel takes work here and there, trying to scrape together enough money to buy a cheap suit and put a girl up in a hotel. He tries desperately to find work, but is often turned down or away. Along the way he meets Lundgren, a kind, but very ill man, and Boats, the Socialist, who challenges Acel's thinking. Initially antagonists, Acel comes to adopt Boats philosophy in a surprising turn. Eventually, Acel is forced to choose between his new ideals and surviving in a society that is violent towards anything resembling Communism. The ending is subtle, but Anderson makes a strong literary and political statement through Acel's actions. The title makes the story all the more compelling, because as Acel and his fellow travellers move from state to state and camp to camp, they are always searching for sustenance. Their profound hunger for food, money, love, and acceptance is well conceived.
At times I found Anderson's dialogue clunky or Acel's speech and thought patterns a bit contrived. The conversations seem a little stilted and dated, but again, this might just be representative of the time. It took me a little while to actually get into the slightly jarring tone and to feel empathetic towards Acel, but I warmed when I began noticing that he treated all of his bum buddies fairly.
The cover on my copy of Hungry Men calls it "an American Classic". I'm not sure I would go that far, but I do believe its an honest look at the Depression. Because Anderson experienced much of what he wrote about, his descriptions are reliable. No Steinbeck, but Anderson's a decent writer and certainly has picked an interesting subject and protagonist. Recommended as historical fiction for anyone interested in turn-of-the-century writing and the Great Depression.