“This book is required reading of any consumer with a conscience,” said Josephine Livingstone in The New Republic. Written by a German novelist who briefly worked at an Amazon warehouse on the outskirts of Leipzig, it makes the work at the company’s infamous fulfillment centers sound “exactly as unpleasant as it is”: tedious, mind-numbing, physically wearing. Other writers before her have described those conditions, and many workers have endured them longer and at greater personal cost. But Heike Geissler has fully captured the alienating effect of such labor, at a moment when labor is arguably as alienating as it will ever be. This is work that, for the sake of meeting our demand for the lowest possible prices, asks the workers themselves to disappear.
Geissler developed a smart strategy for conveying how the job erodes one’s sense of self, said Alex Press in The Nation. She writes less in the first person than in the second, creating a “you” who is, more or less, the Heike Geissler who for six weeks was not a writer but instead a subservient, easily replaceable Amazon employee working solely for a paycheck and stripped of all sense of agency. Working under relentless time pressure in a dingy, drafty warehouse, she packs and unpacks products, scans them and sorts them, repeating her routine for hours while male managers subject her to borderline sexual harassment or talk to her as if she were a child. Though her initial impulse is to fight, “the faceless immensity of Amazon leaves her with no one who might listen to her complaints.”
The feeling of being replaceable “seems to rub off on how people treat each other,” said Sarah O’Connor in the Financial Times. Not for weeks does another co-worker say hello and offer her name; all the author’s peers seem to understand that they’re fungible, performing work that soon will be given to robots. Geissler’s greater worry is that we all work like Amazon employees, not for ourselves but just to survive, said Naomi Fry in NewYorker.com. “What can a person actually do,” she asks, “considering that we all need money?” That line comes late, and “the question, chasm-like, remains unanswered.” ■