The first chapter is called “I Think I Am Rich”. This chapter focuses on Sunee. A former sex worker, Sunee shows Vollmann her and her mom’s home, which...
“Self-Definitions” is the title of the first part of William Vollmann’s book Poor People. The section is divided into five chapters.
The first chapter is called “I Think I Am Rich”. This chapter focuses on Sunee. A former sex worker, Sunee shows Vollmann her and her mom’s home, which Vollmann describes as a “shack.”
Vollmann then retells Sunee’s life story, which includes multiple marriages and many children. Now, Sunee works for an illicit cleaning company. Sometimes, Sunee receives money from one of her daughters. Often, Sunee is drunk. Vollmann asks Sunee the name of her whiskey. Sunee says it doesn’t have a name. Sunee also says she can’t read much and can only write her name.
In chapter 2, “I Think They Are Poor,” Vollmman profiles a Yemeni fisherman and a Yemeni beggar woman. He asks the woman why she thinks there’s poor people and rich people. The woman says it’s up to Allah, and she’s “happy” as she is.
Later on, Vollmann briefly profiles an 82-year-old Columbian man and a Mexican sex worker named Angelica. Angelica doesn’t divide people by rich and poor. “We’re just humans,” says Angelica.
In chapter 3, Vollmann tells about the plight of Natalia. According to Vollmann, Natalia is quite the storyteller. Her autobiography comes with “foreshadowings, narrative complications, and a climax.” It appears as if a tick bite when she was young sealed her fate. She also tells about an alcoholic husband. Natalia says her children were put in an orphanage. But, according to Vollmann, Natalia’s story doesn’t add up. The dates don’t make much sense.
After Natalia, Vollmann moves on to her “rival”, the elderly Oksana, who details her struggles in Russia during World War II and afterwards. When asked why she thought she was poor, Oksana speculates that maybe she did something wrong in life.
Moving back to Natalia, Vollmann reveals that Natalia receives 30 euros from a tourist on a specific day. Natalia then tells more about her hardships with her children.
Vollmann wraps up the chapter by talking to people who were impacted by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster
In chapter 4, Vollmann provides a portrait of the people in Nan Ning, China. In chapter 5, “The Two Mountains”, Vollmann focuses on two people, Big Mountain and Little Mountain, who live under a bridge in Japan.