Surviving America

Surviving America

Jessica Bruder: Nomadland (W.W. Norton and Company 2017)

In North Dakota, a sixty-seven-year-old former taxi driver works at the annual sugar beet harvest. In Kentucky, a sixty-six-year-old former general contractor packs goods in an Amazon warehouse during his night shift. In North Carolina, a woman tows a small trailer with her motorcycle and looks for work during the day. In California, a couple runs a roadside pumpkin stand in their RV. An hour from Los Angeles in the San Bernardino Mountains, Linda May is on her way to a campground in her RV to spend the summer as a camp leader.

RV nomads are everywhere. A parallel, ever rolling world. There have always been restless souls who roamed the country as migrant workers or vagabonds in America, but now this way of life has been reborn for a completely different reason. As a result of the dire economic effects of the 2008 real estate crisis, many had to make decisions to eat or pay off their loans. The solution was to get rid of the thing they had spent their lives and salaries on: their real estate.

The book mainly follows Linda and the nomads associated with her during their endless wanderings from coast to coast, from border to border. Linda, although she has had a job all her life, has not been able to achieve financial security. Since she didn’t want to depend on her children, she bought a van and hit the road. Like many others before her, she first experienced having to move into a mobile home as a failure, but later – as with everything – she got used to it. It is not known exactly how many people live this way, but today they form a subculture, they have created their own rules and survival strategies. These lost people surround each other with love and acceptance when they are disappointed in society. This book tells their story and shows how they became free in spirit and how they found the most important thing on the way: hope.

Jessica Bruder first approached these nomads for writing an article. It eventually grew into a much larger project. Three years, 15,000 miles traveled and hundreds of interviews later, this book was born, which documents the lives of migrant workers who renounced their traditional middle-class life, with all its troubles. In order to follow the nomads, the writer herself moved into a 1995 GMC Vandura van (like the A-Team van, only in white with a turquoise stripe).

The book was originally published in 2017 and was adapted to a film in 2020, which received numerous nominations and eventually won 3 Oscars. Starring Frances McDormand and director Chloé Zhao also received the prestigious award. The film presents the true story around a fictional character. Our protagonist is the sixty-one-year-old widow Fern, who prepares for a nomadic life after the gypsum mine near the working town of Empire closes. The economic crisis damaged many settlements, but Empire was completely wiped off the face of the Earth: since it was created for the workers and their families working in the mine, without the mine and the factory, the city was also liquidated. The film also featured Linda and other nomads who play themselves.