Made on earth by Wolfgang Korn
Sub-title: What we wear. Where it comes from. Where it goes.
A&C Black, Bloomsbury, 2012. ISBN 9781408173916.
(Age: 11+) Is it possible to write an engaging, informative book about globalisation? Wolfgang Korn has proven that it can be done. Without illustrations, Made on earth offers only text, a map, a glossary and an index, yet it takes its readers on an imaginative, enlightening and disturbing journey.
The author has turned the manufacture and distribution of his red fleece jumper into a narrative. Readers follow the production and manufacturing process through three countries until the garment is purchased then discarded, recycled and shipped overseas again. At each stage of the jumper's existence, the people who work in the oil fields, factories and retail outlets, as well as those who crew the tankers and cargo ships, tell their stories. The result is a compelling overview of the complex economic web that is the global economy. The impact of Made on earth stems from its interweaving of a mass of information with fictitious but convincing characters. The use of the present tense for immediacy and a brisk, journalistic style owe much to Wolfgang Korn's experience as a writer for newspapers and magazines. His command of the subject may be due to an interest in political science and history. The author has been well served by the translator. Readers are unlikely to be aware that the text was originally written in German. The diary structure is effective but the use of dates in 2005 and 2007 may undermine the urgency of the message, while text boxes that range over one and a half pages can be visually disconcerting.
Authors of non-fiction face the challenge of knowing that their work is not always as engaging as fiction. Wolfgang Korn has met that challenge with a fast paced, wide ranging narrative that will open the eyes of many older children and young adults to the system of international trade in which we are all enmeshed. Some may even forget that they are reading an information book.