Ghosts of Tom Joad

Ghosts of Tom Joad

A Story of the #99 Percent

Peter Van Buren

A Story of the #99 Percent


A story about growth, failure, and redemption, Ghosts of Tom Joad traces the rise of the working poor and the don’t-have-to-work-rich as it follows the fortunes of the protagonist Earl. A product of the post–Korean War era, Earl witnesses his parents’ kitchen table arguments over money—echoed in thousands of other Rust Belt towns—experiences bullying, relishes first kisses, and comes of age and matures as a man before the economic hardships of the 1980s and 1990s wear on his spirit. Earl takes his turn at a variety of low-paying retail jobs in the new economy before becoming mired in homelessness and succumbing to meth, alcohol, and destitution. As he takes a final, metaphorical bus ride, Earl reflects on his past, considering the impact of the war on his father—and, subsequently, on himself—his own demise, and the romance between himself and Angel, which ultimately redeems him. This is a tale about the death of manufacturing, the deindustrialization of America, and a way of life that has been irrevocably lost. Anyone interested in the impact of political and business policy on the American Dream will be drawn to this profound, humorous, and moving novel.

"A seasoned State Department diplomat, stalwart Iraq War whistle-blower, and author of "We Meant Well" (2011), Van Buren turns his keen eye to the shameful treatment of the nation’s unemployed and homeless."

~ Booklist

"Van Buren’s prose is accessible, colloquial, somewhat macho, with sustained skepticism and moments of humor."

–Washington Post

“A lyrical, and deeply reported look at America’s decline from the bottom up. Though a work of fiction, Ghosts of Tom Joad is – sadly, and importantly – based on absolute fact. Buy it, read it, think about it.”

~ Janet Reitman, contributing editor, Rolling Stone, author of Inside Scientology: the Story of American’s Most Secretive Religion

“Politicians come and go, but the critical issues tearing at our society do not. In his new book Ghosts of Tom Joad, Van Buren turns to the larger themes of social justice and equality, and asks uncomfortable questions about where we are headed.”

~ Daniel Elisberg, whistleblower, The Pentagon Papers

"Based on his personal experience in dead-end retail jobs, Peter Van Buren captures the downward spiral of middle America, as the workers who’ve been sacrificed for corporate profits watch their children flounder in minimum wage jobs and fight to survive. This is a powerful novel that reflects the desperate reality that many Americans face daily."

~ Peter B. Collins, Host of The Peter B. Collins Show

"This book is very well done on so many levels. The story and the message are both appropriate and accurate in America’s former industrial centers. Even though I left long ago, it is not something I, or anyone else, can run from forever."

~Joseph Spuckler, Evilcyclist's Blog

I found the voice and voices engaging, interesting, and compelling. Images and phrases stuck until well after I'd read the work. I often engage myself with themes of middle-class, middle-American struggle, so things like this really resonated with me. Bottom line: It's accessible and compelling, a mix of "Canterbury Tales" meets "Grapes of Wrath" meets "American Beauty."

-- Charlie Sherpa, Military Blogger, Red Bull Rising

Having personally experienced both sides of the proverbial fence, I can testify to the trueness of Van Buren’s writing. These lives, though fiction, are real and living among us. These “ghosts” are our neighbors in need of salvation. And for that attention, Van Buren has accomplished much.

~ The Avid Reader

Van Buren takes an interesting approach, making the whole story a series of flashbacks while Earl is riding on the city bus, which is sometimes real and sometimes metaphysical, or at least metaphorical.

~ Ohio Barbarian

DOWNLOADSGhosts of Tom Joad Bonus Essay

Peter Van Buren, a 24-year veteran Foreign Service Officer at the State Department, spent a year in Iraq leading two State Department Provincial Reconstruction Teams. Following his book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People (The American Empire Project, Metropolitan Books), published in 2011, the Department of State began judicial and then termination proceedings against him, stripping him of his diplomatic credentials. Through the efforts of the Government Accountability Project and the ACLU, Van Buren instead retired from the State Department with his full benefits of service. Prior to Iraq, Van Buren was assigned by the State Department to Taiwan, Osaka, London, Seoul, Tokyo and other locations in East Asia. He attended The Ohio State University, graduating with a B.A. in photography and an M.A. in Education. He also attended the Osaka University of Foreign Studies and the Hyogo (Japan) University of Teacher Education for post-graduate study. Van Buren, along with other Federal whistleblowers like Tom Drake, John Kiriakou and Jesslyn Radack, is also working closely with Academy Award-nominated documentary filmmaker James Spione on a new film called SILENCED: Washington’s War on Whistleblowers, due out in 2014. Van Buren speaks Japanese, Chinese Mandarin, and some Korean (his book’s all in English, don’t worry). Born in New York, he lives in Virginia with his docile Rottweiller

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Publication Date2014-04-25
Publication StatusIn Print
Trim Size5.5 x 8
Page Count256

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