As expats living in the United States, we often strive to understand the nuances of American society, culture, and the foundations of the American Dream. J.D. Vance’s New York Times Bestseller, “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis,” offers a profound insight into the lives of white working-class Americans in the Rust Belt, as well as an analysis of the social, economic, and cultural issues that have shaped this unique demographic.
A friend recommended the book to me after I said to him that after more than one year of living in the US, I started to understand more why almost half of the country voted for republican candidates in recent presidential elections. Before living here, I didn’t have the smallest clue just by reading the news. As I read the memoir, I get goose bump often, which is a clear sign the story resonates.
At its core, “Hillbilly Elegy” is a deeply personal memoir. J.D., a former Marine and Yale Law School graduate, recounts his upbringing in the impoverished region of Appalachia, specifically the small town of Middletown, Ohio. While we haven’t traveled extensively across the country, we have come across many small towns during our road trips. Whenever we come to a small town, we often ask ourselves how people here can make a living, given how small their town is. Throughout the book, he reflects on the challenges he faced growing up in a turbulent family environment marked by poverty, addiction, and a lack of opportunity.
The book delves into the values and traditions of the Appalachian people, illustrating how their sense of loyalty, honor, and resilience have been both a source of strength and a double-edged sword. These deeply ingrained cultural traits can sometimes perpetuate cycles of poverty and addiction, as individuals struggle to break free from the limitations of their upbringing.
Vance’s narrative sheds light on the so-called “hillbilly” culture, which is often misrepresented and misunderstood by outsiders.
Do I believe everything J.D. wrote in the book? Probably not, because J.D. himself said up front that he couldn’t be certain of all the details. But I get a sense of his upbringing, his people, and his general message through the book. It is raw; sometimes, the wording can be very uncomfortable for people to hear.
J.D. is now a US senator, representing the state of Ohio. I haven’t done any research about his policy proposals, his politics or read much news about him. Nevertheless, that doesn’t stop me from recommending his book as a good read for expats in the US.
I hope you enjoy the book as much as I do.