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Hillbilly Elégie, by JD Vance, Globe Editions, translated from English (United States) by Vincent Raynaud. – Photo credits: The Times


FIGAROVOX/READING – Alexandre Devecchio read Hillbilly Elegy, a veritable editorial phenomenon in the United States. In this autobiographical account, JD Vance retraces the harsh life of the "little whites" of deep America who voted for Trump and made the voice of a disillusioned class heard, without ever lapsing into misery.

Photo credits: Le Cerf
Photo credits: Le Cerf – Photo credits: Le Cerf


Alexandre Devecchio is a journalist at Le Figaro, in charge of Le FigaroVox. He has just published The New Children of the Century, an investigation into a fractured generation (ed. du Cerf, 2016) and is co-author of Welcome to the worst world (ed. Plon, 2016).



Some still struggle to believe it today. Almost a year ago, Donald Trump became the most unlikely American president in history. Editorial phenomenon in the United States, where it was one of the bestsellers of the year, Hillbilly Elegy, translated into French by Editions Globe, allows us to better understand this event which has made so many observers lie. Yet JD Vance's book is nothing like a traditional political essay. It was written before Trump was officially the Republican presidential nominee and takes the form of an autobiographical account.

JD Vance's book is not a traditional political essay. It was written before Trump was officially the Republican nominee.

The author recounts his atypical career: that of a cultural defector, JD Vance, 33, a graduate of Yale Law School, one of the most prestigious in the world. He lives in a comfortable house on the East Coast, is happily married and has two healthy dogs. But, deep down, he remains a 'hill hick', 'an Irish-Scottish Hillbilly'. Vance comes from a poor family in the industrial Rust Belt region. These grandparents, "Papaw" and "Mamaw", from Appalachia, Kentucky, settled in Ohio to escape poverty. Democratic Party sympathizer,the party that defended the workers“, Papaw experienced a form of social ascent by becoming a worker in the steel industry. Two generations later, everything has changed. Ohio moved from the Democratic camp to the Republican camp, resulting in Trump's victory and a profound reorganization of the American political landscape.

Through his chaotic story (absent father, drug-addicted mother), JD Vance retraces the destiny of the "little whites" of peripheral America. His description of the collapse of Middletown, one of Ohio's oldest cities, is startlingly true. Downtown, which looked great in the 1980s, is now a pale reflection of the golden age of industrial America. Shopping malls that were always full, restaurants that had existed since the interwar period and bars where workers met for a drink after leaving the factory have given way to empty streets, shops with barricaded windows and Chinese fast food. The basketball court is nothing more than a rectangle of concrete overgrown with weeds. The Armco plant that had "teleported Vance's grandparents from the hills of Kentucky into America's middle class," has gone bankrupt. Housing values ​​have plummeted and owners find themselves under house arrest in rundown neighborhoods. Their life expectancy is decreasing.

In this post-industrial hell, anger is brewing against a democratic elite that is disconnected and guilty of having eyes only for minorities.

In this post-industrial hell, anger is brewing against a democratic elite that is disconnected and guilty of having eyes only for minorities. "President Obama entered politics when many in my community were beginning to believe that in modern America meritocracy was not forged for them.“analyzes Vance. The destiny of these forgotten people of deep America echoes that of the "toothless" of the France of the invisible. But, and this is the strength and originality of the book, the author never lapses into misery or complacency. He knows his people: their great qualities as well as their immense faults. Losers of globalization, they are also responsible for their fate. Hillbillies are blessed with a true sense of honor and family. These badass are hot-blooded and if someone insults their mother, they can pull out their colt or their "chain saw". But far too many of them have a addiction to alcohol and drugs. Every evening, they yell at each other and throw anything that comes their way in their face. Their culture of welfare and resentment traps them in a form of victimized communitarianism. "A strong tendency among working-class white people is to blame society or government for all evil, and it continues to grow," laments JD Vance. His gaze is both severe and fair. Because, despite his brilliant trajectory, he remained one of them. "Where Americans see Hillbillies, rednecks or white trash, I see my neighbors, my friends, my family, he writes. I love these people, including the ones I avoid talking to for my sanity. Because there are no bad guys in this story. There's just a funny bunch of Hillbillies struggling and finding their way.»

Photo credits: Globe Editions
Photo credits: Editions Globe – Photo credits: HARD COVER



Hillbilly Elegy, by JD Vance, Globe Editions, €22. Translated from English (United States) by Vincent Raynaud.










Source: ©  Splendor and Misery of the “little whites”

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