The Braindead Megaphone

By GEORGE SAUNDERS

George Saunders’ award-winning fiction uses the absurd to get at the real, and makes the real absurd. He creates imaginative landscapes informed by an underlying sense of how political and social circumstances shape individual lives. Luckily for readers, an editor at GQ realized that Saunders’ fierce critical intelligence and deep compassion would make him an excellent international correspondent as well. Saunders’ first book of nonfiction essays collects pieces of international reportage from Nepal, the U.S./Mexico border, and Dubai (where he sees the chance for world peace in the passing of a cigarette between Arab teens, German tourists, and U.S. Navy sailors all enjoying the “Wild Wadi” waterpark). Other essays pay tribute to favorite writers (including Esther Forbes, Kurt Vonnegut, Mark Twain, Donald Barthelme); these are nicely supplemented by humor pieces written for The New Yorker and McSweeney’s. The title essay, partly informed by Saunders’ work as a reporter, reflects on how faux information becomes news and news becomes sound bites. The writer’s willingness to consider multiple sides, ability to find humor in pathos, and concern with the politics of language are reminiscent of the nonfiction writing of George Orwell. But Saunders’ distinctive voice remains wholly his own.
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