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Deep South (Unabridged Audiobook)

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For the past fifty years, Paul Theroux has travelled to the far corners of the earth - to China, Africa, the Pacific Islands, Russia, and elsewhere. In Deep South he turns his gaze to a region much closer to his home. Travelling through North and South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas he writes of the stunning landscapes he discovers - the de For the past fifty years, Paul Theroux has travelled to the far corners of the earth - to China, Africa, the Pacific Islands, Russia, and elsewhere. In Deep South he turns his gaze to a region much closer to his home. Travelling through North and South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas he writes of the stunning landscapes he discovers - the deserts, the mountains, the Mississippi - and above all, the lives of the people he meets.


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For the past fifty years, Paul Theroux has travelled to the far corners of the earth - to China, Africa, the Pacific Islands, Russia, and elsewhere. In Deep South he turns his gaze to a region much closer to his home. Travelling through North and South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas he writes of the stunning landscapes he discovers - the de For the past fifty years, Paul Theroux has travelled to the far corners of the earth - to China, Africa, the Pacific Islands, Russia, and elsewhere. In Deep South he turns his gaze to a region much closer to his home. Travelling through North and South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and Arkansas he writes of the stunning landscapes he discovers - the deserts, the mountains, the Mississippi - and above all, the lives of the people he meets.

30 review for Deep South (Unabridged Audiobook)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Melora

    Only on page 60, but this, from page 51, is a good example of the problem I'm having with this book. "Most of the Southerners I encountered had no more than a nodding acquaintance with books, and that gave them either an exaggerated respect for authorship or an utter indifference to it. When there was an exception, and I came across a handful, often in the unlikeliest places, the reader was passionate, with a house full of books, like an isolated bookworm in a Chekhov story." Theroux seems to ha Only on page 60, but this, from page 51, is a good example of the problem I'm having with this book. "Most of the Southerners I encountered had no more than a nodding acquaintance with books, and that gave them either an exaggerated respect for authorship or an utter indifference to it. When there was an exception, and I came across a handful, often in the unlikeliest places, the reader was passionate, with a house full of books, like an isolated bookworm in a Chekhov story." Theroux seems to have a very high opinion of himself, and is dismayed when people don't know Who he is. This is the first of his books I've read, and I have mixed feelings about it. Some of the stories he tells about the people he meets are interesting, but so far he's been pretty condescending about the white Southerners he's encountered (pretty much uniformly described first as fat, then as having cartoonish accents). He seems more favorably inclined towards the black people he meets, who are all well-spoken and well-dressed. I get the feeling that he is visiting the South with a particular set of expectations, and he is finding what he expects to find. I also find it peculiar that he begins with a long rant about travel writers who complain about the challenges of travel in the United States, which he, as a world traveler, finds effortless, and then he goes on at length about the agonies of going through security checks for U.S. air travel. "All air travel today involves interrogation, often by someone in a uniform who is your inferior." (pg 19) Much as I agree that airport security checks Are a miserable experience, I find the comment about the agents being "inferior" rather bizarre. ---------- Okay. That's it. Every time I start to enjoy this, he says something that just irritates the heck out of me and I wonder why I'm spending my break with an "entertainment" read that's just making me mad. For instance... He visits the University of Alabama and ponders the enthusiasm of Crimson Tide football fans. Now, I understand that the author of a travel book can't just Describe things, because then he'd be writing a Michelin travel guide; he has to draw some sort of Deeper Insights from what he observes. Still, it just seems as though everything Theroux sees is further proof for him of the guilt and inferiority complexes which are, he seems to think, defining characteristics of Southerners. "Reflecting on the Crimson Tide, I ceased to think of it as football at all, except in a superficial way; it seemed much more like another Southern reaction to a feeling of defeat, with some of the half-buried emotion I'd noticed at gun shows. In a state that is so hard-pressed, with one of the highest poverty rates in the nation, with its history of racial conflict, and with so little to boast about yet wishing to matter, it is natural that a winning team -- a national champion -- would attract people in need of meaning and self-esteem in their lives, and would become the basis of a classic in-group, The Tide was robust proof of social identity theory." (pp. 68-69) A few pages later, Theroux visits Cornerstone Full Gospel Baptist Church, as a cultural experience, not to worship, naturally. He sits behind two women "so beautiful that my gaze kept drifting toward them, and even when I was looking away the fragrance of their perfume warmed my face and made me smile, as though I was breathing their beauty" (p 74). Nice, right? I thought so. But then he has to spoil it with "the two lovely women in front of me were beaming, their heads thrown back, singing into their veils, their bodies twitching with pleasure beneath their silken dresses, and I had to remind myself that I was in church" (p 77). Now, this may be an instance of how just about Anything he says at this point will annoy me, but his lecherousness seems particularly out of place when he has been graciously welcomed into the church as a guest. Oh, and Before the service, the church's bishop takes Theroux on a tour of Stillman College, and Theroux makes a reference to palmers in the Canterbury Tales (because the bishop's name is Earnest Palmer, and he's a preacher): "You have the perfect name for a preacher. Earnest Palmer." "A man of faith, carrying a palm," he said. "I think of a palmer as a pilgrim, bringing a palm from the Holy Land. Like the line in Chaucer." He slowed the car and glanced over at me. I said, "Canterbury Tales. 'Palmers for to seken straunge strondes." He smiled as people sometimes do when hearing an unintelligible language brazenly spoken, or a dog with an odd bark. "To ferne halwes, couthe in sondry londes," I recited. "Palmers -- pilgrims searching." He laughed. It seemed like news... Now, what, exactly, is his point? If he really Did quote Chaucer to his guide, after realizing that the fellow didn't recognize the reference, why? And if he Didn't really do it, why is he adding the exchange in? I really don't know. And then, in the next section, the final irritating little thing that made me decide to cut my losses and return this to the library. He's made an appointment to visit a business woman who is also a community organizer, and he's fifteen minutes late for his appointment. She's angry at his lateness, or at something about him, and starts scolding him, accusing him of "white privilege" because he chose not to call when he realized he'd fallen behind schedule. His response is, to me, astonishing. "My lateness did not seem serious enough for an apology, nor so serious that it merited this incessant bollocking from the woman standing before me." She's been waiting for him for fifteen minutes, with the intention of giving him more of her time for an interview, and he can't even say "sorry"? After some more unpleasantness, he offers the woman and her husband a short lecture on how their behavior would be considered rude in the North and leaves, assuring us that they have been put in their place. "'I wrote a book once,' the woman said, but in a milder way, trying to get my attention, but by then I was half out the door and still shaking my head." So, the woman was rude and he was rude. They didn't hit it off. But for Theroux this is really a sign of something Deeper. "Anyway, it was a good lesson for me, that for some, old wounds were unhealed. And she was a good example of the warping influences of the South." Right. Because there are no short tempered people in the North. Or people who suspect racial prejudice when their schedules are treated as unimportant. Sure. I know Theroux is well established as an excellent writer (and not Just because he mentioned this repeatedly over the eighty-five pages I read), but for me, in this book, he comes across as an incredibly arrogant and condescending traveler who views the people and places on his trip only through the lens of his preconceived ideas about what the South and Southerners are like. A few nicely turned phrases aren't enough to make him a fun traveling companion.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Brina

    In the summer months I find myself repeatedly on a quest to find that one travelogue that isn't just a travel book but one that also informs readers of history and sociology of a region. Veteran travel writer Paul Theroux has been brought to my attention multiple times in our ongoing Pepys Project Diary in the group Reading for Pleasure here on Goodreads. Theroux has been writing both travel books and fiction since the appearance of his Great Railway Bazaar in 1975, yet I had never read one of h In the summer months I find myself repeatedly on a quest to find that one travelogue that isn't just a travel book but one that also informs readers of history and sociology of a region. Veteran travel writer Paul Theroux has been brought to my attention multiple times in our ongoing Pepys Project Diary in the group Reading for Pleasure here on Goodreads. Theroux has been writing both travel books and fiction since the appearance of his Great Railway Bazaar in 1975, yet I had never read one of his books before. When Deep South was nominated for the group's next nonfiction selection although not winning, I decided to get the book for myself, and then read and discuss as a buddy read in the nonfiction book club, also on Goodreads. What I found was the travelogue I had been seeking. Theroux has been around the globe on his travels but never to the Southern part of the United States. In lieu of airplane and train travel, at age seventy four he decided to get in his car and drive from his home in Cape Cod to the south at his leisure. Because he wanted to get a deep feel for the region, Theroux repeated this trip four times over the course of the four seasons of the year. Rather than spending time in Southern cities as Atlanta and Charlotte, Theroux went off the beaten path and got to know the characters in small southern hamlets such as Allendale, South Carolina and Greensboro, Alabama. He learned southern hospitality first hand and was treated to many meals at soul food restaurants along the way. During these four seasons on the road, Theroux got a feel for the culture and character that makes up the south. Theroux's musings include visits with preachers black and white, farmers, community grant organizers, fellow writers, and citizens of each community he visited. While he witnessed the good, the bad, and the ugly, for the most part he was viewed as the anonymous Mr. Paul and invited in for a dose of southern hospitality. He attended gun shows, church services, and Tuscaloosa on a football game day, as well as a meeting with farmers, a blues festival, literary festival, and a meal with a nonagenarian author. I found this author Mary Ward Brown to be fascinating and would love to read some of her short stories. Being a read person, I also enjoyed Theroux's exchanges with Greensboro, Alabama historian Randall Curd, who owns an impressive personal library. For the most part, the characters he met at each stop were happy to discuss their lives with Theroux and invited him to return, which he did. These hard working, charming people make up a slice of Americana that Theroux enjoyed immersing himself in. Theroux saw impoverished southern towns as well and noted that U.S. aid pours into Africa but rarely to the lowest twenty percent of Americans, predominately black southerners from his experiences. He witnessed how blacks are still left behind and how racism and separation is still rearing its ugly head in certain parts of the south. Southern farmers are denied bank loans or discouraged from farming in the first place, black women are banned from joining University of Alabama sororities because the alumni networks are against it, and in many communities blacks and whites just do not mix. Other than these overtly racist examples, the separation of races is what Theroux sees as being common place, and he notes that politicians like Clinton, Robert Byrd, and even Strom Thurmond played the race card in their favor regardless of their personal views in order to win votes. Clinton stood out to Theroux that he asked community empowerment agents at many stops if they ever received aid for Clinton's organization, even though he knew that the answer would be a resounding no. Yet, the people thrive- farming, rebuilding dilapidated homes, attending northern schools if need be- in order to achieve their personal American dream whether it be preaching, owning a barbershop, farming, running for political office, or writing. Theroux saw more positives than negatives from small towns on these travels. After a close call from tornados in western Arkansas and staying at one Patel owned hotel too many, Theroux knew it was time to return north for good. He enjoyed the southern hospitality he received on his road trips, which were enhanced by photographs by Steve McCurry, who traveled concurrently with him. I hope that Theroux has the time and energy to travel in another section of the United States, as I got a feel for Americana through his social commentary. Having never read his travelogues or fiction before, I have a feeling that a Theroux travel adventure might become an annual summer read for me. 4 stars

  3. 4 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    I'm a Paul Theroux fan! I adore the guy. I like his fiction and his travel books. Paul Theroux didn't need to visit the airports for this journey. He got in in car and drove from his Cape Cod home. He takes a several trips back and forth ... spreading out over more than a years time. I had an adventure right along side of Theroux... enjoying the people - places - history - and tidbits I learned along the way. I've been to The Middle East... Europe...lived in Israel for almost a year... but I've ne I'm a Paul Theroux fan! I adore the guy. I like his fiction and his travel books. Paul Theroux didn't need to visit the airports for this journey. He got in in car and drove from his Cape Cod home. He takes a several trips back and forth ... spreading out over more than a years time. I had an adventure right along side of Theroux... enjoying the people - places - history - and tidbits I learned along the way. I've been to The Middle East... Europe...lived in Israel for almost a year... but I've never been in any of the Southern States in our country. So, I enjoyed this book tremendously. Theroux covers a lot -- ...The wealthy -the poor ...The dark shadow that still lives from the Civil War ...Gospel Churches ...racial issues ...Gun shows ...Ku Klux Klan ...History of Southern writers ...Real Country Cooking - good food in poor towns ...farming ...drugs, health care, crime, school dropout rates ...Manufacturing outsourced to China ...The advantage of being an unrecognized writer ...Schools, Colleges ( Historically Black colleges - technical schools, private and public schools) ...Meeting with a Reverend ...Football ...Black Belt ...Other travel writers - Faulkner, Henry David Thoreau, etc. ...white privileged ...political history ... Bluegrass music ... Pawnshops ... Bill Clinton's writings about his boyhood & political conflicts ...The people...( Conversations... Stories... History.... Culture... Values) "Hi there. How you doing?" "I'm fine," I said. "Hungry, though." "Have the liver and onions," he said. " It's delicious. It's on special today." "Thanks for the suggestion. I'm passing through. I'm from Massachusetts." "What church are you affiliated with?" "I had never been asked this question by a stranger, in the United States or anywhere in the world. I got it so often in the south I became curious about that mystical believes people there". "A church in the south is the beating heart of the community, the social center, the anchor of faith, the beacon of light, the arena of music, the gathering place, offering hope, counsel, welfare, warmth, fellowship, melody, harmony, and snacks." Reading "Deep South", by Paul Theroux, was a little like sitting with my friend sharing these adventures in person. I think am a little bias... I really love Theroux's books....and admire the life he has lived. Look at the places he has travel - the books he has written -- To not read Theroux is a missed opportunity. Deep South is 'almost' a book - that you could pick up - in the middle ( read out of order ), and still enjoy. Wonderful colorful photos can be found online of his adventures. Thank You Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Netgalley, and Paul Theroux.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jessaka

    What a curmudgeon travel writer. I once promised myself that I would never read another Theroux book after his “Oceania” where he hated every island except for Hawaii. Still, there is enough information in the second half of this book to make it worthwhile reading. Where did Theroux get the idea that everyone in the south are evangelicals, dumb, lazy, drug addicts, racists, gun junkies, and didn’t read books, but if they did they had huge libraries in their homes? I will admit that there are a lo What a curmudgeon travel writer. I once promised myself that I would never read another Theroux book after his “Oceania” where he hated every island except for Hawaii. Still, there is enough information in the second half of this book to make it worthwhile reading. Where did Theroux get the idea that everyone in the south are evangelicals, dumb, lazy, drug addicts, racists, gun junkies, and didn’t read books, but if they did they had huge libraries in their homes? I will admit that there are a lot of people in the south like this, but his generalizations really got to me. What did he do, plan his trip around finding these types of people? First, let me address his comments about people in the south not reading, but that when they do they have huge libraries. Not all readers here collect books; instead we read them and then give them to the library so that others, who can’t afford to buy books, can get them cheap. We used to have a yearly book sale but now have a used book room. Whenever we had the book sale, people would come out of the mountains and hallows and buy enough books for a year. I used to help out during these sales, and the books that they bought were really great books. Speaking of which, many people in the south are poor, not because of anything they have done wrong, but because our government, here in Oklahoma, doesn't care about education, good paying jobs, health care, or helping them in any way. I have lived in the south in Mississippi, Florida, Texas, and now here. My husband warned me that I would not like the south due to the racism, but we talked about becoming gypsies and traveling, stopping in any town that we liked and then his getting a job in construction. So we left California during the construction crash of 95. My husband was right about the racism. I didn’t like it, so I will give that to Theroux. I hated Mississippi and Florida for those reasons, and like Theroux wrote in his book, a quote by poet Jerry W. Ward, Jr., “Racism is a permanent feature of life in Mississippi.” While I didn’t like Mississippi, I liked going over to Beale Street in Memphis, driving down the Blues Highway, and I loved New Orleans. Why didn't he talk about those places and with some affection? After 9 months in Mississippi, I said, “Get me out of here.” The racism had done me in. Every time I was around people the N word came vomiting out of their mouths. For me it was like trying to brush No See Ums off my face and arms all day long. You just couldn’t get away from them. I had joined a Buddhist group in Memphis just across the state line from Southaven were we lived. One of my black Buddhist friends said that she preferred living in the south because she knew where she stood with people. When she had lived in Portland, OR she didn’t because of the people’s political correctness. I preferred the political correctness, until I found out this year, due to the political climate, that some of my friends back in California were against blacks, Mexicans, and Muslims. I tried to reason with them, but when I couldn’t, I ended friendships, others I just quit calling. It was a sad time and full of tension, not just because of losing friends but because I was concerned about our country and still am. Speaking of California, I wonder what a book would be like if Theroux wrote one about it? Would the people all be rich, beautiful, yuppies who didn’t like guns, who were not racists, and who had great educations, etc? And then there are his comments about gun owners. Everyone in the south, as he kind of puts it, is a gun fanatic. He went to gun shows and took notes of conversations and then wrote down those conversations in a condensing manner. He loved making fun of people in the south. No one is denying that some in the south really love guns, but some have to kill to eat. Later on in the book, a man who he is talking with tells him that he kills squirrels to eat, and yet I didn't get the feeling that he took any interest in this conversation outside of just recording it. People in rural California also have guns. For examples, my step-dad lived in California, and he had guns because he hunted deer and quail, but he didn’t sit around and talk about guns with his male friends. I know, because I used to sit outside with them and listen. While he talked about hunting, he also talked about ranching, branding cattle, and the people he knew that had good stories to tell. Then when he grew old he allowed the deer to come in his yard and sit under the trees, just as my husband and I do where we live now. My husband has guns as well, but he is not a hunter; he is a college educated Californian. He wants guns for protection and likes to target practice once in a while. He doesn’t talk about them. Not everyone in the south goes to gun shows either. We have been to a few, but we never heard the kind of conversations that Theroux says he heard. As my husband put it just now, “You need a gun in rural America for protection, not just against a criminal, but if you live in the country, there are poisonous snakes, rabid skunks, etc. It isn’t just in the south that they have guns, it is in any rural area in America: Montana, Wyoming…” I would say that even in the States where Theroux lives, Hawaii and Massachusetts, people have guns and use them to hunt. Next, Theroux put down religion, both the black and the white ones, by making fun of the ministers. Me, I just put down all religions but not to make fun of the people. Then he mentioned that the blacks were not allowed in the white churches. I have to agree with this, but I know some churches accept all races. When I lived in Mississippi a neighbor told me that if a black person, she used another name for blacks, walked into a church, the congregation would just ignore him or her, and they would not come back. That is how they keep them out of their churches. To keep blacks out of their towns, a Realtor in Hernando told me that I should always show up in person at a realtor’s office so they could see the color of my skin, and if I were white they would rent to me. They know how to get around civil rights issues. Here in Oklahoma the blacks also have their own church, but one year it was set on fire or bombed and the only people who helped them were the Unitarians. Last year they moved their church down the road from us, so my husband and I went over to meet them. One of their members learned where I lived and said that she had wanted to stop by and see my garden, but she was afraid. That bothers me that a black person would be afraid to stop and knock on a white person’s door. I told her to come by any time and even offered her church plants from my garden. She never came by. I took bags of irises to the church and planted them along the side and was then asked to come to their services. I thanked them, but I didn’t want to come and be asked to return again. Now it would be easy to get me to come for a potluck, but I couldn’t very well say that to them, so I just thanked them for the offer. But if I ever catch them having a potluck outside I will stop by and say hello. I actually don’t hear much racism here in Oklahoma. I just think that people tend to be politically correct here. The word “blacks” is used, and once in a while “coloreds.” Here, like anywhere, you have to learn to choose your friends wisely, and I thought I had when I lived in California. I assumed too much. When I first lived there I had joined a club, but when we had our yearly outings, I would be in a car with a group of people and hear racist remarks. I quit three times before just giving up. My complaints didn’t go over too well. As for Paul Theroux saying that the friendliness in the south is only superficial, well, that isn’t true, at least not in Oklahoma. The problem, like it always is, is religion and politics. If you don’t talk about those things with people, then they will remain friendly. The superficial comes in when you have allowed your beliefs to get in the way, when you have verbalized them. They will still be friendly, but now it is superficial on both sides. I must also add that I have never been around such helpful people as I have here. When we were looking for a house to buy in this Oklahoman town, we were looking in the country and had to stop and look at our map. People would stop and ask if we needed help, even the sheriff came by once and asked if he could help us. Then a man who was grading the roads stopped and asked us if we wanted our road graded. (This was for free.) I should have said yes so that the people he thought we were could get their road graded. Next, we went to the dump, and a man was closing the gate, so we began to slowly drive away, when all the sudden we saw this man running after our car, yelling at us. It was the man who had been closing the gate. He said he would open it for us so that we could dump our garbage. I thought of the times that I was taking a city bus in Berkeley, and I would run to catch it and get right up to the door, and the driver would see me, shut the door in my face and drive on. Last of all, you won’t find any better music than Red Dirt Music or our local Turnpike Troubadours who are now number three on the Billboard Charts: http://www.979nashfm.com/2016/07/26/l...

  5. 4 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    I am going to put off writing a full review of this because while Theroux did point out some injustices happening still in the South today, I am bothered by some of the assumptions he made about Southerners in general. Though I have visited the south many times, I don't believe that unless one has actuslly lived in the place it can be fairly described, no matter how many people with which one talks. I have another book South Toward Home: Adventures and Misadventures in my Native Land, by someone I am going to put off writing a full review of this because while Theroux did point out some injustices happening still in the South today, I am bothered by some of the assumptions he made about Southerners in general. Though I have visited the south many times, I don't believe that unless one has actuslly lived in the place it can be fairly described, no matter how many people with which one talks. I have another book South Toward Home: Adventures and Misadventures in my Native Land, by someone who actually lived there, and i hope to compare these two books. The fact that we send more many to Africa to help those countries and their blacks than we do to help our poverty stricken Southern cities and towns, really bothers me. Also the racism still so prevalent in Mississippi I find appalling. Did give me many new to me Southern authors to read, and gave me a hankering to read more Faulkner.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Diane in Australia

    I really liked this book, for several reasons. Paul Theroux was 74 years old when this was published, and it was SO good to see him enjoying himself so much. After 50 years of traipsing all over the globe, he more than deserves to 'put his feet up and set a spell'. One thing that really made these trips special was that he drove himself, instead of relying on public transport, as he has often done in the past. He fell in love with the whole 'road trip' scenario. I wholeheartedly agree. There's n I really liked this book, for several reasons. Paul Theroux was 74 years old when this was published, and it was SO good to see him enjoying himself so much. After 50 years of traipsing all over the globe, he more than deserves to 'put his feet up and set a spell'. One thing that really made these trips special was that he drove himself, instead of relying on public transport, as he has often done in the past. He fell in love with the whole 'road trip' scenario. I wholeheartedly agree. There's nothing like being your own boss, going where you want, when you want, and for as long as you want. Bliss! He made four journeys into the southern U.S. states, one in each season. He kept off the beaten path, and out of the big cities. No one seemed to recognise him, and he liked it that way. To them, he was just an ol' white man from up north. So, he just moseyed up to 'em and starting chewing the fat about what it was REALLY like to live in the south. He was VERY impressed with their friendliness, and hospitality. I could go on, and on, but I'll stop, otherwise, you won't have to bother reading the book! ... lol 4 Stars = It touched my heart, and/or gave me much food for thought.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Bettie

    BOTW http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b067w2dv Description: Paul Theroux has spent fifty years crossing the globe, adventuring in the exotic, seeking the rich history and folklore of the far away. Now, for the first time, in his tenth travel book, Theroux explores a piece of America — the Deep South. He finds there a paradoxical place, full of incomparable music, unparalleled cuisine, and yet also some of the nation’s worst schools, housing, and unemployment rates. It’s these parts of the South, s BOTW http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b067w2dv Description: Paul Theroux has spent fifty years crossing the globe, adventuring in the exotic, seeking the rich history and folklore of the far away. Now, for the first time, in his tenth travel book, Theroux explores a piece of America — the Deep South. He finds there a paradoxical place, full of incomparable music, unparalleled cuisine, and yet also some of the nation’s worst schools, housing, and unemployment rates. It’s these parts of the South, so often ignored, that have caught Theroux’s keen traveler’s eye. On road trips spanning four seasons, wending along rural highways, Theroux visits gun shows and small-town churches, laborers in Arkansas, and parts of Mississippi where they still call the farm up the road “the plantation.” He talks to mayors and social workers, writers and reverends, the working poor and farming families — the unsung heroes of the south, the people who, despite it all, never left, and also those who returned home to rebuild a place they could never live without. 1/5: . He's in Tusacaloona, in a car park, thinking about going to church. In a vehicle beside him sits Lucille, all black silk and lacey sleeves - "You lost, baby?" Her welcoming words are typical of the South. 2/5: In Greensboro he meets the impressive Rev. Eugene Lyles, aged 79, who has his own church, his own barber shop and runs the local diner on Main Street. So, time for a haircut, then some lunch... 3/5: The author stays at the 'Blue Shadows Bed and Breakfast' in Greensboro, and through its owner, Janet May, meets Randall Curb. And through Curb he will then encounter the legendary Mary Ward Brown, short story writer, aged 96. 4/5: 4. At Aiken's steeplechase event he meets well-healed locals, mainly horse people and cotton baron descendents. Then he visits a hovel, once inhabited by Melvin Johnson, who has stories to tell.. 5/5: He takes to the backroads of Georgia and Alabama, which smell of sun-heated tar. The fields are full of cotton and the big rivers beckon.. 3* Dark Safari 2* The Mosquito Coast 3* Ghost Train to the Eastern Star 1* The Lower River 3* Fresh Air Fiend 3* Dark South

  8. 5 out of 5

    Udeni

    An irritating and self-indulgent ramble through the Southern states of the USA. Theroux is patronising to both black and white communities, ignorant of the complex history of race relations in the South, and flippantly dismissive of many of the people he meets. Lecherous, rude, self-aggrandising (there are frequent references to his long and glorious literary career) this book gets two stars for Steve McCurry’s superb photographs. My broader point is that this type of historically uninformed trav An irritating and self-indulgent ramble through the Southern states of the USA. Theroux is patronising to both black and white communities, ignorant of the complex history of race relations in the South, and flippantly dismissive of many of the people he meets. Lecherous, rude, self-aggrandising (there are frequent references to his long and glorious literary career) this book gets two stars for Steve McCurry’s superb photographs. My broader point is that this type of historically uninformed travel writing has been over-taken by travel shows and even Google Earth which mean you can see a place for yourself from the comfort of your own room. Theroux routinely exaggerated the poverty of the places he visits: Allendale in SC is described as a ”vision of ruin, of decay, of utter emptiness...devastation, as though a recent war had ravaged the place and destroyed the buildings and killed all the people.” Google Earth reveals Allendale to be a perfectly well-kept, small town. Most disappointingly, there are no references to any Southern authors other than William Faulkner. No mention of Maya Angelou, Jesmyn Ward, or Attica Locke. Despite Theroux’s endless complaints that the Southern Gothic is a tired old trope, he does his best to reinforce it at every turn “ The smell of house rot, of damp rags and worm eaten wood and dead mice and wet, half dissolved newspapers was overpowering. I saw the clutter, the flattened cardboard boxes nailed to the wall, the floor strewn with old shoes, torn pillows, twisted quilts, splinted chairs, piled boxes, ill sorted papers and rags. A cracked mirror was the crowning touch, blending a hint of horror.” V.S. Naipaul famously considered Paul Theroux to be a charlatan and literary lightweight. If this book is typical of his output, I couldn’t agree more.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Chrissie

    This was my first Paul Theroux. I was impressed, and I will read more by the author. I chose this because of the theme - the South. I like reading Southern literature. The author is not only well traveled but also well read. The book covers racism and poverty in the South today, historical background and a thorough study of Southern literature and its authors. The book does not cover anything to do with urban centers or coastal regions. Nothing about Hurricane Katrina, not a word about Florida, n This was my first Paul Theroux. I was impressed, and I will read more by the author. I chose this because of the theme - the South. I like reading Southern literature. The author is not only well traveled but also well read. The book covers racism and poverty in the South today, historical background and a thorough study of Southern literature and its authors. The book does not cover anything to do with urban centers or coastal regions. Nothing about Hurricane Katrina, not a word about Florida, nothing about the wealthy, nothing about tourist attractions. Just so you know. The words "Four Seasons on Back Roads" in the title are meant to tell you this. This is Theroux’s latest book, published in January 2015. It is completely up to date. It looks at the poverty of the South. It draws an intimate portrait of its denizens. Their friendliness, their willingness to talk, their love of stories as well as their abject poverty, illiteracy, incredibly poor housing conditions, lack of health care. Racism, the all engulfing importance of the church and possession of gun are pivotal to the South. Why? How this has come to be so is clearly shown. Theroux knows the history of the South, relating historical events alongside his conversations with those he meets on his travels. He meets indigenous people, both the worst off and those who have climbed up one notch. Immigrants, Blacks and Whites. The common denominator of all are the struggles and the oppressive indifference of the moneyed. Repeatedly the conditions in the South are compared to those of the Third World and the millions spent there, but not spent in America's backyard. Theroux's past travels give him the knowledge to draw such comparisons. He fills in the statistics. The book weaves history into the present. The main focus remains his talks with the poor living in the South today. The book captures their milieu, their life and their sentiments. It is a book about people. That Theroux makes four trips, in fall, winter, spring and then summer over one and a half year (2013-2014), is important. By doing this he sees places more than once; he builds up close relationships with those there. He chats with them. He eats with them, shares a beer and goes to the gun shows. Not once but many, many times. He gets their trust. With that trust he learns much more than a casual visitor could ever achieve. The book consists of the four travels taken in the four respective seasons. Between these he throws in "interludes" on related subjects: the term "nigger", Faulkner and Southern Gothic literature. Southern literature is a thread woven throughout the entire book. He concludes with an epilogue, summing up his personal thoughts. The whole book reflects Theroux's personal views. You cannot get away from that, not ever. He backs up his views with solid facts, historical events, statistics and quotes. He's got quite a bit on Clinton, his youth in Arkansas and how this shaped him. His personality as viewed by Theroux. That the Clinton money has done so little for the South is pointed out more than once. The why of it is discussed. There is a good balance between current versus historical details. The beginning is slow. He begins with a long hullabaloo about air travel which irritated me; I was impatient for him to get me down there to the South. The further you go, the further you are drawn into the lives of the people he met in the South and the better the book gets! Give it a chance. Parts are repetitive; it felt as though the four central sections were written separately, thus leading to repetition. Yet the four separate trips worked well as a means of getting deeper into the soul of the South. What is Southern identity and how has it grown from its history? The writing is excellent. There isn't a whole lot of description about natural phenomenon, but when there is it is stunning. How he describes his short sojourns home in Cape Cod were beautiful. I wanted more, but of course we had to leave and go south. Then later I got the ridges in the Ozarks. A thunderstorm and a tornado watch in Arkansas were thrillingly told….but not overdone. You’ll find out why. So, good writing as well as solid content and thought provoking ideas. The book is personal; we are given the author's views. A reader must accept that opposing views are perhaps not voiced. The audiobook narration I listened to was done by John McDonough. At first I didn't like it, but by the end I felt it was great. The narration is very slow, which I liked. Others may find it too slow. Southern dialect is superbly read. He switches back and forth without a hitch. You cannot tell if the person speaking is a Black or a White. Should you be able to tell? I don't think so. Sometimes you cannot distinguish between males and females, but most often you could. Often elderly women do have low, base, grumbling voices.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Smith

    At the start of this book Theroux talks about the mock ordeal described by many travel writers in documenting their travels through his native country. But the roads are so good in America, he laments, how could a journey to a place at the far end of his own particular road be anything other than simple and trouble free? And to all intents it proves to be just that – in fact, he manages to snooze through the one true ordeal during his time in the Deep South, when twisters make their invasive way At the start of this book Theroux talks about the mock ordeal described by many travel writers in documenting their travels through his native country. But the roads are so good in America, he laments, how could a journey to a place at the far end of his own particular road be anything other than simple and trouble free? And to all intents it proves to be just that – in fact, he manages to snooze through the one true ordeal during his time in the Deep South, when twisters make their invasive way through neighbouring counties taking lives and homes as he sleeps. But this book really isn’t about a journey, there is no sightseeing here and it’s far from the point A to point B trips that the author has documented, often brilliantly, many times before. This book is really about the people he meets and the injustice the author feels about the way the deprivation of this area has been roundly ignored by those in his country with the power to make a difference. Rev the engine and eat my dust. Theroux makes his first of four separate visits to the area in 2012, from his home in Massachusetts. Each time he chooses a different season. He sticks to back roads and small towns for the most part, deliberately so. Most often he seems to gravitate to the area of the Mississippi Delta. He meets people, asks questions and makes friends. Often people ask him to come back – actually many simply assume he’ll return – and he does. He goes to gun and knife shows (attendees are all polite and well mannered and they talk freely, assuming he is a man of similar interests to themselves), he attends church services and seeks out those who are trying to improve the lot of the local communities. Conversations led by the locals are inevitably focussed on a recurring list of subjects: religion, music, race, guns, unemployment, poverty and race. He stays mainly in family run motels (often owned by the inevitable Mr Patel) and often takes his meals in barbeque joints and local diners. In one such establishment, Granny’s Family Restaurant in Monroe, Louisiana he notices a cautionary sign that states take all you want but eat all you take. Out of interest I looked this eatery up on Trip Adviser and learned that it comes highly rated with four and a half out of five stars! He is warned by a local not to stop on Highway 1 as people will ‘want what he has’, but in truth he finds no threat during his time down South, discovering that the people are universally open and friendly. What he does find is poverty, and lots of it. The author’s sense of indignation at the lack of support for the poor of this area is palpable. Having lived in and travelled through deprived countries in Africa he sees plenty in common with this area: the lack of jobs (the manufacturing industry here having been largely outsourced to China, Mexico and South America) and badly funded health, education and housing needs. And yet he’s seen that some small Africa countries gets hundreds of millions of dollars in aid from American sources (the government and charities set up by Gates, Clinton et al) but very little seems to be channelled to the poor and needy in this part of their own country. How is it, he challenges, that the needs of some African countries attract the big money whereas the those of people in America’s own back yard are ignored? There’s quite a bit of history mixed in here and some politics too. But mostly this is about the people he meets and the lives they live. There’s a good deal of dialogue and many fascinating stories. In between his trips to the South he finds time to ruminate on a number of subjects including Southern literature in general and William Faulkner in particular. But most notable, to me, is his lengthy meditation on the source, uses and history of the ‘N’ word - highly illuminating. Like all of the travel novels I’ve read from this entertaining writer I found this book to be entertaining and illuminating in equal measure. It opened my eyes, it made me laugh and it made me think. What more could I ask for?

  11. 5 out of 5

    James Hartley

    This is a great book, more of a thesis, really, in which the author, a seasoned travel writer, journeys through the poor, mostly black, regions of the southern United States. Anyone coming in hoping for stories of Elvis or the blues might be disappointed (although Theroux does visit Tupelo and meets one of BB King´s ex-wives). No, this write up of a series of Theroux´s travels by car from his home in the north of the country is more concerned with the neglect of the region and its current malais This is a great book, more of a thesis, really, in which the author, a seasoned travel writer, journeys through the poor, mostly black, regions of the southern United States. Anyone coming in hoping for stories of Elvis or the blues might be disappointed (although Theroux does visit Tupelo and meets one of BB King´s ex-wives). No, this write up of a series of Theroux´s travels by car from his home in the north of the country is more concerned with the neglect of the region and its current malaise, which he often compares to the third-world. The book is a series of vignettes, interviews and reflections, about the people Theroux meets along the way. He doesn´t flinch from examining the big questions, of race, history, slavery, racism, guns, identity and the civil war. To his credit, there´s no way you can read this book and not come away with a flavour of the place and a better idea of its history and current predicament. It´s a big book and a self-consciously "serious" book, although it can be repetitive and monotonous, mainly as a result of the "diary" aspect which Theroux uses - recording his thoughts and conversations day by day. In amongst its almost five-hundred pages, though, are many fascinating stories, personal and historical, and as a whole the book makes up a powerful argument for how the south has reached its current state, horribly poverty-stricken in the richest country in the world, through governmental neglect. Interesting for me, too, as a Brit, to see that within countries, the regions far from the seats of power are often stereotyped as lazy or unproductive whilst at the same time being starved of funds and denied the same level of investment as thoughs closer to the centres of power. Interesting too how, in the end, this means those same neglected regions develop a strong, self-sustaining culture which is far more easy to identify than the one-world, money-driven, capitalistic traditions of the richer areas, who share a global identity. Think The North in England, the South in Spain and so on.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Elaine

    When I think of the South in the USA I think of big white planation houses like Tara in Gone With the Wind with gorgeous fields and countryside. But here we are presented with a more confronting and harsh reality. The South whilst known for it's hospitality, authors like Truman Capote, William Faulkner, fried chicken, corn bread and cotton fields also has a dark history of racism, lynchings, the Klu Klux Klan and of course slavery and civil unrest. Unfortunately in the Deep South, Theroux, disco When I think of the South in the USA I think of big white planation houses like Tara in Gone With the Wind with gorgeous fields and countryside. But here we are presented with a more confronting and harsh reality. The South whilst known for it's hospitality, authors like Truman Capote, William Faulkner, fried chicken, corn bread and cotton fields also has a dark history of racism, lynchings, the Klu Klux Klan and of course slavery and civil unrest. Unfortunately in the Deep South, Theroux, discovered in amongst the natural beauty, there still exists today a great deal of poverty and racism where not much has changed amongst the whites and the blacks. It still remains today a place steeped in it's history, with churches and religion being it's soul and gun shows and the love of guns a welcome pass time. In spite of all that I still found a warmth and a welcome that comes through and except for some very remote and down and out towns, most people in the Deep South still remain friendly and hospitable and will give of what little they have. I can almost smell that fried chicken, corn bread and collard greens. Reading this has only increased my fascination with that part of the country and for it's history. 3.5 stars.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Cbj

    Theroux starts off Deep South by proving that great American writers like John Steinbeck, Mark Twain, Melville and Thoreau lied through their teeth in their travel books. They never went to the places they claimed to have been in their travel books and made up a lot of stuff. Their irritations with travelling in America were banal according to Theroux because nothing in the world offers more freedom to the traveller than the open American roads and highways. He proceeds to grumble about how air Theroux starts off Deep South by proving that great American writers like John Steinbeck, Mark Twain, Melville and Thoreau lied through their teeth in their travel books. They never went to the places they claimed to have been in their travel books and made up a lot of stuff. Their irritations with travelling in America were banal according to Theroux because nothing in the world offers more freedom to the traveller than the open American roads and highways. He proceeds to grumble about how air travel had become a pain in the ass. American liberalism and free speech according to him are because there is a lot of elbow space in the country and not because Americans like to hear crap about themselves. He believes the new immigrants are more censorious and easily butt hurt than many of the natives. Theroux travels across many beautiful and deserted Southern American small towns and is often surprised by the poverty and desolation which he compares to scenes he encountered in African nations and India. These small towns were once prosperous places with large factories but now everything has moved to China, India or Mexico. Black people are the main victims of this outsourcing of American manufacturing. The American South is still segregated. The elbowroom which Theroux talked about early in the book has given rise to not just freedom of speech but also segregation with both white and black tribes living in their own areas without much intermingling. Theroux examines the history between Whites and Blacks – the murder of Emmet Till, other race riots and important historical figures including Bill Clinton (whom Theroux portrays as an insincere crook). Theroux is a big fan of Faulkner and Charles Portis. But wonders why Faulkner never lifted a finger while he was a writer in residence at the University of Virginia which witnessed discrimination against black people. He encounters another curious bunch of people in the American South – Gujarati motel owners. Theroux seems to be irritated by them in the beginning. Their motels are described as filthy. But as he comes across more and more of them, the irritation turns to amusement and respect towards the end when a Gujarati tells him that he would welcome anyone in his motel and the American South (also that his major competitors are other Gujaratis and not whites or blacks 😊) . The blacks in the South secretly believe the whites who left the South sold their motels and properties to the Gujaratis to take revenge on the blacks. Gun fairs and the church functions are two important social staples of the South. Theroux attends a number of these. I found them to be a bit repetitive. Wherever he drives, he is enamored by the beauty of the American South. If you have been curious about the American South after watching American movies, this is the book for you. It Is not all romantic. But Theroux is not a pompous guy and does not suffer fools - his encounter with a haughty offended black woman who tries to bully him using his white privilege after he turns up late for a meeting was quite funny. This book finally got me out of my six month long reading funk.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Louise

    This take on the American South is informed by the author’s extensive travels outside the US and his background in literature. This is modest, one man travel. There are no reviews of Michelin rated hotels, tours of old plantations or interviews with celebrity chefs. Instead, you read of churches, gun shows, unsung eating places and no reservations motels. He has informed observations for these aspects of life and travel. He interviews people he happens to meet and those who are suggested to him This take on the American South is informed by the author’s extensive travels outside the US and his background in literature. This is modest, one man travel. There are no reviews of Michelin rated hotels, tours of old plantations or interviews with celebrity chefs. Instead, you read of churches, gun shows, unsung eating places and no reservations motels. He has informed observations for these aspects of life and travel. He interviews people he happens to meet and those who are suggested to him for their local involvement and knowledge. From his travels in India, Theroux knows the backstory for the many “Patel’s” who run the motels where he stays. He can tell you about their home region of India, tell you why they have chosen the motel business over the restaurant business, identify the aroma wafting from their kitchens and more. Being a noted (by those who read) writer opens doors. He meets writers and gets a special tour of the Faulkner home. He has lunch with short story writer (mostly unknown) Mary Ward Brown and attends the Arkansas Literary Festival. There is a mini-chapter on Faulkner (which relieved me of any inclination to ever try Faulkner again) and another on southern writers in general. The larger part of this book is comprised of interviews of Blacks. From farmers he hears of the difficulty in obtaining credit and of the sharecropper legacy. He learns of community development initiatives from making bicycles to finding housing solutions. Religious leaders wear many hats and give perspective on the social and political issues. Poor Blacks live in towns destroyed by interstate highways and on farms that they own, lease or strive to buy. Theroux compares the poverty he sees with the poverty of Africa where he and others (for instance Alex Perry in The Rift: A New Africa Breaks Free) are critics of aid programs. Theroux shows what small portions of the billions spent in Africa could do at home. The issue of race infuses a lot of the book, not only in the interviews of those who speak to the violence of change. There are visits to civil rights landmarks. In Mississippi, he visits Philadelphia (death of 3 voter registration workers and Ronald Reagan’s presidential run announcement) and Money (death of Emmitt Till). In Tuscaloosa, Alabama he writes of not only football, but the difficulty of integrating sororities. In South Carolina he ruminates on the life of Essie May Butler, the secret daughter of segregationist Strom Thurmond. There are sections that defy classification, such as meeting Massoud Besharat, an Iranian born entrepreneur in Alabama, who operates quarries (among other businesses); the Rosenwald schools; the role of beauty pageants; “The Taboo Word”; and Bill Clinton’s home town(s). There is only one instance where he shows the misanthropy he is sometimes accused of – his attitude when he is called out for being late to an interview. There is no index, which is particularly missed when he re-visits people from a previous trip. The pictures at the end are great suggesting more should have been included. Like any Theroux travel book, this is best savored over time. The chapters are arranged with sub-stories, so it is easy to drop and pick up as time permits.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

    I was looking for a book like this. When I read Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance I was unmoved by the philosophy, but I loved the road trip. Pirsig’s writing came alive when he described the scenery, the people, and the places he passed through. The small towns especially interested me: they were vibrant, hospitable, and safe, and got me to thinking about how much has changed since then. On one of the ZAMM websites I found that Pirsig started his trip in July of ‘68, and I was looking for a book like this. When I read Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance I was unmoved by the philosophy, but I loved the road trip. Pirsig’s writing came alive when he described the scenery, the people, and the places he passed through. The small towns especially interested me: they were vibrant, hospitable, and safe, and got me to thinking about how much has changed since then. On one of the ZAMM websites I found that Pirsig started his trip in July of ‘68, and could not have known that he passed through those places at the high water mark of post-war prosperity, a time when jobs were plentiful and the future looked bright. It had been this way for a generation and must have seemed like it would go on forever. The 70’s were to bring globalization, stagnation, and economic downturns, and the long decline was on. Ever since I read ZAMM I have been looking for a book that updates the picture of small town America today, showing both the good and the bad. There is still energy in many of them, with hard working people trying to bring jobs and stability back to their communities. There are also, however, the well documented problems of drugs, crime, unemployment, and decay. Although Deep South looks at only one part of the country, Paul Theroux’s descriptions of the places he visited opens a window onto life in small towns and rural areas as a whole. The South has all the problems the other areas have, plus racism, lots of it, an endemic blight on its history, institutions, and people. Outside the cities things are grim, with continual population loss and economic decline. The days when a factory or farming job could provide a decent income to support a family are mostly gone. The factories have moved overseas and the farms have automated; a single machine can do the work of twenty men. In many cases the people with education, ambition, and means left long ago, and those who remain are the poorest, sickest, oldest, the ones most dependent on government services that are insufficient and increasingly unavailable. In town after town Theroux describes boarded up main streets where the only stores that are doing well are pawn shops and dollar stores. He has traveled around the world and knows what Third World poverty looks like. “Many Americans were just as poor as many Africans, or as confined in rural communities as many Indians; they were as remote from anyone caring about them, too, without access to decent housing or medical care; and there were portions of America, especially in the rural South, that resembled what is often thought of as the Third World.” What remains are mostly poorly paid service jobs with few or no benefits, and as good jobs disappear the towns’ tax bases contract, leading to fewer and fewer services just as there is more and more need for them. People are left to fend for themselves, surviving on welfare, food stamps, handouts, and who knows what? Though Theroux never mentions illegal drugs, the reader can’t help but wonder what role they play. With minimal government help and no job prospects it is hard to believe people would not take any opportunity, legal or not. There is a sense that things are truly falling apart. These people aren’t just isolated, they are abandoned. “These poor folk are poorer in their way (as I was to find) and less able to manage and more hopeless than many people I had traveled among in distressed parts of Africa and Asia. Living in the buried hinterland, in fractured communities and dying towns and on the sidelines, they exist in obscurity.” All that remains for many of them is religion. It can help hold communities together, and it provides more than a source of spiritual consolation. It also gives a sense of community, a way to give and receive help and support, and hope for a better future, however tenuous that hope might be. Hope is a beautiful thing, but it does not put food on the table or a roof over one’s head. At some point even this last pillar of community may collapse and these desolate rural areas become No Man’s Lands beyond the reach of government and law. These problems are not unique to the South. What sets it apart is its history and culture. Its people are often kind and gracious, but many harbor deep resentment about how the South has been treated historically, culturally, and economically. Many are unwilling to embrace change and treat discussions of the region’s problems as unwanted meddling by outsiders. At one point Theroux sat down at a communal table in a restaurant and found that the first comment directed to him by one of the other diners was about the treatment of her ancestors during the Civil War. “You starved us,” the woman said. “You made us eat rats.” This sort of response—sometimes heartfelt, sometimes a bitter joke, sometimes spoken with defiant nostalgia—is so commonly uttered in the South, always by whites, to a Northern visitor, that I learned not to say, “That was a hundred and fifty years ago,” but instead listened with sympathy, because conquered people feel helpless, and the proof of this is the monotony of their complaint. Their nagging on this point, ancient to me but fresh as today in their minds, gives the North—of which I was the embodiment that morning—a fiendish magnitude. This embrace of the Lost Cause and its effect on people’s attitudes forms a useful framework for understanding other aspects of Southern culture. Take sports, for instance. There are passionate fans across the country, but in the South football has become a secular religion, with people investing not only their emotions but a large measure of their personal self esteem as well. "The sports fan is an example of someone engaged in group membership, for whom association and affiliation matter so greatly you could say it gives him or her a purpose in life.” Theroux attended a University of Alabama football game and saw how the fans identified themselves with the fortunes of their team.Reflecting on the Crimson Tide, I ceased to think of it as football at all, except in a superficial way; it seemed much more like another Southern reaction to a feeling of defeat, with some of the half-buried emotion I’d noticed at gun shows. In a state that is so hard-pressed, with one of the highest poverty rates in the nation, with its history of racial conflict, and with so little to boast about yet wishing to matter, it is natural that a winning team—a national champion—would attract people in need of meaning and self-esteem in their lives, and would become the basis of a classic in-group, The Tide was robust proof of social identity theory. He also visited gun shows whenever one was being held near him. Originally it was because they were good places to get people to talk freely. “People who dealt with guns were generally talkers, I’d learned. Usually they had a gripe with the government and strong views on neighbors or crime, and felt put-upon and slighted. A man with a weapon was a man with something on his mind.” He came to realize that they embodied yet another aspect of the sense of loss, humiliation, and defiance that is at the heart of Southern identity. That was when I began to understand the mood of the gun show. It was not about guns. Not about ammo, not about knives. It was not about shooting lead into perceived enemies. The mood was apparent in the way these men walked and spoke: they felt beleaguered, weakened, their backs to the wall. How old was this feeling? It was as old as the South, perhaps, for all they talked about was the Civil War, and they were oppressed by that and everything that had happened since, a persistent memory of defeat. Added to all this is the ever-present racism, an undercurrent that everyone recognized but which only the blacks spoke about. The main concern of the whites seemed to be not rocking the boat, not actually doing anything to change the status quo. Their solution was to vaguely point to the future and say that things are gradually getting better, and they resented outsiders reminding them that there are real things they could do today. Theroux gets to the heart of the matter by quoting from an almost century old book: “’The South gives indications of being afraid of the Negro. I do not mean physical fear,’ Frank Tannenbaum wrote ninety years ago in Darker Phases of the South. ‘It is not a matter of cowardice or bravery; it is something deeper and more fundamental. It is a fear of losing grip upon the world. It is an unconscious fear of changing status.’” In a world where even white people are barely holding on, society becomes a zero-sum game, and any measures taken to help lift blacks out of poverty could upset the social structure; if blacks lives improve, whites fear that theirs will decline. Theroux’s observations on racism in the South lead to an interlude when he discusses the inflammatory, dreaded N-word, and he brings his usual sensitivity and nuance to gain an understanding of what it means to both blacks and whites. He notes that it is best seen as a taboo rather than a slur, “Taboos are created by those who want power, in this case blacks, who can use it freely while punishing whites for violating the taboo. If the word were simply a racial slur, it would be forbidden to everyone who spoke it.” He saw its use by whites was an act of defiance, "I sometimes felt that hearing my Yankee accent, a Southerner, especially in a rural area, and nearly always uneducated and poor, said the word as a hostile taunt to challenge my sensibilities, to get a rise out of me.” The word is, fundamentally, about power, the power of blacks to use it freely and even affectionately, while creating an explosive atmosphere when used by whites, “My parents abhorred the word, even these conventional uses of it. They viewed it correctly as racist, betraying the bigotry and ignorance of anyone who spoke it. I can’t think of another word in English that has such singular force: to speak it is to breathe fire.” For all the arguments about who should be able to use the word and why, Thoraux sees it as a symbol elevated beyond being just a word with positive or negative definitions.As a white man I hear the word differently, as a strange ritualized artifact that has become a taboo. Declaring the word taboo is one of the ways—one of the very few ways—a black person can control a white, penalizing him for using a word that he, a black, in a subtler declaration, is licensed to speak freely. In this context, the use of the word by a white belittles (if not degrades) a black person by reclaiming the word, violating the taboo, infuriating and taking power from the black. Deep South is not your typical travel book, where the author breezes through an area and describes the sites he saw, the people he met, and the meals he ate. The book is the result of four extended trips he made in 2011 and 2012, in which he often retraced his routes and talked to the same people again. It is more a meditation on the concept of contemporary Southernness than a travelogue, an attempt to understand the history, attitudes, and relationships of a troubled region in troubled times. Theroux is not optimistic about the future, and indeed it is hard to see where this will all end, and even harder to imagine it will end well. Businesses continue to fail, jobs are lost, services become unavailable, and hopelessness, perhaps, eventually gives way to rage. Who has benefited from globalization? Certainly not the men and women who used to make the products America uses. We can buy jeans made in China for two dollars less than those made domestically, but to do so we have hollowed out the bedrock of the country, and none of the political parties have a viable plan to fix things. The future looks grim; as Bob Dylan once sang, “a hard rain’s a-gonna fall.”

  16. 4 out of 5

    Patty

    "That seemed to be the theme in the Deep South: kindness, generosity, a welcome. I had found it often in my traveling life in the wider world, but I found so much more of it here, that I kept going, because the good will was like an embrace. Yes, there is a haunted substratum of darkness in Southern life, and though it pulses through many interactions, it takes a long while to perceive it and even longer to understand." p. 10 I have lived in Virginia for more than thirty years. I have learned to "That seemed to be the theme in the Deep South: kindness, generosity, a welcome. I had found it often in my traveling life in the wider world, but I found so much more of it here, that I kept going, because the good will was like an embrace. Yes, there is a haunted substratum of darkness in Southern life, and though it pulses through many interactions, it takes a long while to perceive it and even longer to understand." p. 10 I have lived in Virginia for more than thirty years. I have learned to live with my adopted states idiosyncrasies and I feel welcome here. Virginia has made a lot of changes and so have I. However, I would never claim to understand this region of the country. The South is still a mystery to me. So when I was offered the opportunity by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt to read Theroux's latest travelogue, I jumped at the chance. It has been decades since I read anything by Theroux, but I remembered his writing as interesting and his topics as fascinating. I am intrigued by the South. Over the last year I have read a few books with Southern roots. They only whet my appetite for more. This is a confusing place. The deep South is especially hard for me to grasp for a few reasons. I have not spent any time there. The racial politics are, in my opinion, a mess. Lastly, the poverty is overwhelming. Theroux did not change any of these things for me. However, I have now heard about some good things that people are trying to do in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. I have seen the deep South through the eyes of someone who pays attention, asks questions and really listens to the answers. It was well worth taking the journey with Theroux. Once again, I get to encounter the world through a good book. I would have never taken the time to visit as Theroux did. I wouldn't have been comfortable, I wouldn't have talked to people and I don't think I could have tolerated the poverty. However, I now know a bit more about my country and as hard as it is to deal with the racial, political and other problems of these area, I need to be aware. In a review somewhere on Good Reads, (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...) someone wrote that the opposite of poverty is not wealth, but justice. I think that phrase speaks to what Theroux found also. I believe that without these books that show us this dichotomy, we will never see the need to make changes. I think that all readers should become more aware of the place they live. If you don't read this book, which I highly recommend, then read something about a part of your world that you know little about. This kind of writing and reading is good for the soul, the heart and the brain. As always, thank you to Edelweiss for allowing me to read this e-book.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    After five decades spent exploring and writing about the far-flung and exotic places of the world, Paul Theroux has looked to his home country for inspiration. America has always been a place of contrasts and there is none as stark as the differences between the rest of America and the Deep South. Unlike his other journeys, this is one difference; he can climb in his car and drive there. So he does, leaving his home and traveling to the area over the course of four seasons. Each time he catches After five decades spent exploring and writing about the far-flung and exotic places of the world, Paul Theroux has looked to his home country for inspiration. America has always been a place of contrasts and there is none as stark as the differences between the rest of America and the Deep South. Unlike his other journeys, this is one difference; he can climb in his car and drive there. So he does, leaving his home and traveling to the area over the course of four seasons. Each time he catches up with friends made from the previous visit, dodges twisters, sees new places and experiences fresh things. The American South has a long history, there are deeply ingrained attitudes and prejudices, widespread poverty, high unemployment and collectively some of the worst performing schools in the country. The contradiction is that he has some of the warmest welcomes, listens to some brilliant music and eats probably too much of the fine local cuisine. He will talk to anyone regardless of colour or status, the mayor, the homeless, authors, church leaders, gun traders and those that stood up to segregation. The stories that he draws out from these people in his return trips vary from the fascinating to the sad, there are happy moments and some frankly horrifying stories. Theroux tells it as it is, not seeking to judge those he meets, but to let them tell their story in their own words. What comes across is a part of a nation that feels unwanted. The fantastic but equally melancholic photos by Steve McCurry show just how abandoned and derelict some of the towns are, haunted only by ghosts and echoes from the past. It is a poignant book, one that shows just how tough life is there. It is my first book by Paul Theroux, even though I have had a number of his books sitting on my shelves for ages, and it definitely won’t be my last.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sharon Barrow Wilfong

    I love taking road trips. I also like writing about my road trips. Furthermore I enjoy reading other people's stories about their road trips. Or at least I have always imagined I would. I read Travels With Charley because I was charmed by the idea of a cross country trip with a dog. I have taken road trips with my parrot Hercule Parroh. However, the problem with Steinbeck is that he simply does not care for people all that much. Consequently, none of the people came across as likable or believa I love taking road trips. I also like writing about my road trips. Furthermore I enjoy reading other people's stories about their road trips. Or at least I have always imagined I would. I read Travels With Charley because I was charmed by the idea of a cross country trip with a dog. I have taken road trips with my parrot Hercule Parroh. However, the problem with Steinbeck is that he simply does not care for people all that much. Consequently, none of the people came across as likable or believable. I bet he even lied about Charlie, although it did make me want to adopt a standard poodle. All that to say: I wish I had known that Paul Theroux is the author of Mosquito Coast because then I would have known in advance how much I would hate this book and not waste my time. Where shall I start? He's a lousy writer. I can forgive a lot if the writing is well-crafted. Instead, all I got for my six dollars (it was on clearance, big surprise) was one long nasty diatribe against "fly-over country". He said nothing that has not already been said a thousand times over by "woke" journalists from both American coasts. As all progressive people know, racism only exists in the south, as does poverty and segregated schools. Harlem and the Bronx are certainly integrated as is inner city Newark, Detroit and D.C. Nobody past the Mason Dixon line needs government assistance or suffers from generational poverty. Then there's his disdain for Christianity. But that's to be expected. Only backwards primitives that populate the South are so ignorant as to go to church or be believers in Christ. After all, no one outside of the Bible Belt goes to church. In fact, I bet there aren't any churches north of Kentucky. Nope. Only dumb rednecks go to church. And those radio and tv evangelists? All out for money. Unlike Theroux. He didn't write this book for the money. It's obvious he wasn't pandering to any liberal publisher or audience in mind. In fact, I bet he donates his royalties to third world orphans. Well, I guess I've made my point. I don't know what I may have accomplished, but I feel better.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jason

    "People Who Never Hit a Lick at a Snake and They Expect Help" I love that line, something somebody said to the author during his travels in the deep south, it is almost like poetry and makes little sense. This is one of the densest books I have ever read, there is so much information and experience crammed into this book it amazes me how it all fits in so well. I was expecting this to be a travel book but it is so much more than that, you get a history lesson on slavery and the battles for freedo "People Who Never Hit a Lick at a Snake and They Expect Help" I love that line, something somebody said to the author during his travels in the deep south, it is almost like poetry and makes little sense. This is one of the densest books I have ever read, there is so much information and experience crammed into this book it amazes me how it all fits in so well. I was expecting this to be a travel book but it is so much more than that, you get a history lesson on slavery and the battles for freedom and an update on what the state of the country is in today. Most travel books are about somebody going to one place, saying "Oh look at that" and "Isn't is really hot", then they move onto the next place and briefly describe that. Deep South is so much better, Mr Thorax (as he is called by one person) travels in the south, visits places, meets people and then returns. He meets up with the people he met before and sees how the places have changed, he also spots things he missed last time, the way it is written, it's almost as if you have been there before. After reading this I feel I've lived a sheltered life, I knew there was racism and the KKK, I knew the South was poor and a bit run down, I never knew just how bad it was, at times the place feels like a third world country. I've no idea how the government could let things get as bad as they are and yet they continue to leave things as they are. Hopefully this book will be read by people in the right places and changes will start to happen. This book has inspired me to read more southern literature, top of my list is Fanning the Spark: A Memoir by Mary Ward Brown, amazing sounding lady. I do have a couple of issues with this book; 1. There is no spoiler alert at the beginning, Mr Thorax does talk about a lot of books and gives away their endings quite often. 2. Some photos to accompany the book would have been great, I read this on the kindle and there might be some in the hard copy, but nothing on the kindle, photos though would have gone down really well with me. My first reading of a book by this author and I'm now hooked, will be picking up another book of his soon.

  20. 4 out of 5

    William Koon

    I have come to think that Paul Theroux is the English language’s greatest travel writer. Nothing in his travel writing has ever disappointed me. I particularly felt the heart break of his last work Last Train to Zona Verde, when he effectively said, “I quit! Everything is too messed up.” Now in a lengthy work he takes on the American South. It is nowhere near as successful as any of his work that has preceded it.. Seemingly he goes in with preconceptions and polishes them, repeatedly. Simply sta I have come to think that Paul Theroux is the English language’s greatest travel writer. Nothing in his travel writing has ever disappointed me. I particularly felt the heart break of his last work Last Train to Zona Verde, when he effectively said, “I quit! Everything is too messed up.” Now in a lengthy work he takes on the American South. It is nowhere near as successful as any of his work that has preceded it.. Seemingly he goes in with preconceptions and polishes them, repeatedly. Simply stated his thesis is the blacks in the South have been mistreated and continue to be mistreated. He approaches the area from a man reminiscing about the 1950’s and ‘60’s and mired into a certain frame set, that is of the outraged outsider who has read all of the books. Although he takes into account briefly –mostly at the end—the whites, his view is partial. Consider his ruminations of the Savannah River Project which displaced thousands of locals including whole communities, my own people included, and replaced it with nuclear waste. Repeatedly he notes about the flight of companies from the South, but when he writes of Aiken, he does not mention the cotton mills which were once the backbone of the entire Horse Creek Valley and which now stand empty. The mills themselves were fugitive’s from Theroux’s New England, fled because of cheaper labor and non-union workers for the absentee owners. He does repeatedly castigate Walmart. He has almost an abhorrence of the Indian motel owners, the Patels of the South he keeps encountering. He forever mentions the failings of Bill and Hillary Clinton and Bill Gates to bring money to the South to help with education and housing. He constantly writes that parts of the deep South remind him of Africa and India. Constantly. He returns repeatedly to the same geographical areas over a year’s time, but he never sees beyond his own limited vision. Although he gets to know the barbeque and the soul restaurants, we never get the feeling he knows the land or its people. I found particularly partial his portrait of Orangeburg, S.C. His explorations into literature flounder. After building up the author Charles Portis, Theroux’s meeting with him was about as incidental as any episode in the book. His further examinations of Southern literature are sophomoric at best, especially as he considers the gothic aspects of O’Connor. He is particularly cruel about Harper Lee, and I fully concur. He over-condemns Walker Evans and James Agee for not getting it right seventy years ago when they traveled through and created Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. (And they also helped to create fifty plus years ago the young Paul Theroux who read the book on its republication.) He equally attacks Faulkner for not observing closely enough about blacks. I am sorry to say that Theroux himself does not get it right either. Instead he merely scatters the ashes of 50’s and 60’s thought and events onto a landscape he has created out of partial cloth. And as he does in his other travel books, he returns home, smugly satisfied and superior.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Marilee

    Theroux went on a road trip through the deep south, over a multi-seasonal period, concentrating on the black rural poor, their woebegone communities, their churches, their troubles and yes, hope. He also seems to have not passed a gun shop or gun show he didn't visit. Consequently, his vision of the South, is to my mind, a southerner, somewhat distorted. Yes, racism is still a reality in the south, with lasting consequences, even today. Yes, the economy of the rural south is in dire straights, a Theroux went on a road trip through the deep south, over a multi-seasonal period, concentrating on the black rural poor, their woebegone communities, their churches, their troubles and yes, hope. He also seems to have not passed a gun shop or gun show he didn't visit. Consequently, his vision of the South, is to my mind, a southerner, somewhat distorted. Yes, racism is still a reality in the south, with lasting consequences, even today. Yes, the economy of the rural south is in dire straights, as industry flees to foreign countries taking jobs and closing factories, as agriculture struggles to adapt to changing demands and farm jobs disappear. There is a profound sense of hopelessness in many older black communities. Fortunately, there are people trying their best to help their neighbors and revitalize the economy, so severely battered by the recent recession and changing economic realities. But Theroux chose not to visit well functioning communities. He chose not to visit the vibrant newer Southern cities or prosperous resort areas. He chose to exclude, and I understand why because he explained, well off black and white southerners almost entirely. This limited viewpoint in the book presents a somewhat distorted perspective of the south to his readers however, as if one were observing the region through a transom window above a door. Too bad he didn't give us a more balanced narrative to see, as through a picture window. I live in the south, so I know that despite the pockets of poverty and lingering racism, there is also much that is hopeful and thriving.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Yaaresse

    I had never heard of Theroux before this book appeared on our local library’s new acquisitions list, so I had no preconceived notions about the book or the writer. The draw for me was the pitch claiming it to be a travelogue through an area that is usually stereotyped, either by heavily romanticizing it or deeply demonizing it. Theroux claimed he wanted to experience the area as he had the foreign countries he has visited and written about, as a new experience in an unknown land. As it turns out I had never heard of Theroux before this book appeared on our local library’s new acquisitions list, so I had no preconceived notions about the book or the writer. The draw for me was the pitch claiming it to be a travelogue through an area that is usually stereotyped, either by heavily romanticizing it or deeply demonizing it. Theroux claimed he wanted to experience the area as he had the foreign countries he has visited and written about, as a new experience in an unknown land. As it turns out, that was a false promise. Theroux brought lots of baggage with him on his trips. First, the good. Theroux writes rich, detailed descriptions of place and face that engage all the senses. When he tells you what a place looks, smells, sounds like, you can almost feel it yourself. You smell the musty, vegetative delta, feel the humidity press on your skin, see the play of light across the denuded cotton stalks or through pine woods. What kept me reading were the descriptions of the road, of cheap motels and dive diners, of people’s face, voices, and hands. I was entranced for about half the book. The second good thing is that the author revisited the same towns multiple times over a year, traveling through in each season and writing beautifully about the subtle changes. Fall and winter in the deep south are subtle seasons compared to more northern climates. Somewhere in the middle of the book, however, I began to feel annoyed, then irritated, then pissed off. I wasn’t sure why. I pushed on because I wanted to figure out why I was feeling increasing irritation when I had loved the first chapters so much. With a couple of weeks between me and the book, I now know why what I thought would be a five-star read turned to a three-star read. I’ve been to all the states in the deep south, some many times, but I can’t claim to know them or have a deep understanding of their social and economic environments. Places and people are complicated, and I know that no place can be understood fully in a few short visits. I also know that “seek and ye shall find” holds true in travel as in life. Whether it’s a form of selective perception or expectation bias, I don’t know, but when you arrive at a place looking for something to support what you already believe, making a bee-line for where you'll find what proves stereotypes and preconceptions, you’ll find exactly what you seek. In spite of Theroux claiming to tour the area with an open mind, it became obvious that he purposely went only where he was certain to find the specific people and situations to add living flesh to images already held as his truth. After reading far too much Southern Gothic fiction--which he quotes frequently for any and no reason--he’s looking to put faces to his cherished stereotypes. Oh, the poor, misguided South! So steeped in injustice, so impoverished in coin and intellectualism, so delusional in its mores. The Great World Traveler has arrived to explain your impecunious condition to the rest of the world so they can understand and feel pity. The Great Traveler will compare you to Africa and feign indignation on your behalf. He is worldly and can fully comprehend your entire being after passing through town a couple of times. Yeah. Right. For someone who rails against stereotyping so much, Theroux does a lot of it. He seems to have the idea that all southern blacks are impoverished, downtrodden, uneducated, noble pawns with infinite patience and willingness to share their life story with strangers (or, at least, Theroux.) Meanwhile, all the whites are portrayed as either poor, bitter, paranoid, ignorant bigots or else somewhat educated, marginally affluent, pseudo-genteel, elder Southern belles and Beauregards pining for Antebellum days. Theroux hit a mental speedbump when he encountered blacks who don’t fit in his little model of the deep south. If the allegedly rare confident, successful, eloquent black person was cooperating with his endless personal questions and requests, Theroux was effusive, almost cloying in his descriptions. When he came up against a busy nonprofit manager put off because Theroux rudely showed up late to an appointment with no phone call or apology, he made himself out to be the hapless victim. He claimed no wrongdoing: her annoyance was her fault rather than his; the problem was her defensiveness rather than his offense. When he tried to gain unscheduled access to John Lewis at the end of a book signing event and was neither recognized now welcomed by Lewis’ well-heeled, obviously affluent handlers, he was miffed at their coolness, tried--and failed--to explain the rebuff away as anything other than the fact that a strange road-worn guy being overly-familiar, creepy, and suspicious arouses a reasonable wariness in others simply because he was being creepy, entitled, and stalkerish. It’s not like John Lewis has never had a death threat directed at him, which alone is enough to make his inner circle vigilant and wary. Theroux seems to indulge in a form of cultural appropriation or “collector” mentality about people. I felt like he was treating people as zoo exhibits, there for his convenience and entertainment--and to provide fodder for his book and thus augment his income. He didn’t seem interested in them as individuals as much as he was being a Lexus Liberal, someone who professes outrage at perceived social injustice because it makes them feel virtuous and holier-than-thou. Yes, there’s still plenty of racial disparity in the south. There’s still far too much racial disparity and prejudice everywhere. But there are also smart, affluent, well-educated people of color, yes, even in the deep south. It is insulting to treat them as anomalies, as if their successes aren't normal, as if they are rare unicorns unknown in the real world. Theroux also claims that he liked being anonymous, but he certainly seemed put out when he wasn't recognized as “the famous travel writer.” Well, buddy, I consider myself a fairly broadly-read southerner, and I’d never heard of you either. I asked half a dozen people from various parts of the country, all of whom have college degrees, well-worn library cards and are well-traveled. They didn’t recognize your name either. I suspect, Mr. Theroux, it’s not that the entire south is illiterate or ignorant of celebrity, as you suggest: it’s that you are not as famous as you’d like to think you are. He certainly detests Bill Clinton, that’s for certain. While I agree with his point that the Clinton Global Initiative and similar organizations could and should tackle domestic issues rather than pouring billions into other continents, Theroux’s dislike of Clinton came across as far deeper than a conflict of where to funding projects. It felt like a personal vendetta. He goes on and on about what he sees as Clinton’s character flaws and faults long after they cease to be relevant to the point at hand. He even tried egging on other people he met to join him in Clinton-bashing. When quietly shut down hard by one black farmer on the subject, he claims he never mentioned Clinton again. If only! He wrote about little else for several chapters. (The thought crossed my mind to wonder how much of the proceeds from this book will be donated to any of the organizations Theroux used as fodder for his book. I’m betting very little…as in zero. Never mind he didn’t hint at so much as picking up the lunch tab for any of the people whose time and stories he milked for material.) Another thing that nagged at me was that Theroux detailed conversations where people tell him a flood of very personal information or opinions within a few minutes of meeting him. Why would they do that? Or, more specifically, did they really? How much of the conversations actually happened as written and how much was fabricated "for the story"? I have no idea, but I remain suspicious at the authenticity of the transcripts. These instantly-deep conversations are just too convenient, too immediately intimate, too in service of Theroux’s romanticized images about southern segregation and poverty. Yes, southerners have a reputation for hospitality and storytelling, but most of us have the sense to be wary when a stranger starts asking a lot of questions, especially when it’s obvious he’s on a fishing expedition. In the end, I simply felt patronized and condescended to by the constant comparisons to other places, the agenda to dig up the past rather than look at the present, the stereotyping of the region while claiming to be objective, the newcomer expert who was going to tell everyone "how it is" after short exposure. I think the book is worth reading simply because Theroux does know how to turn a phrase and write beautiful descriptions. It may also be worth reading because it does contain some historical information about the area. As an introduction to the region, however, I can't recommend it; there's just too much author agenda for a travel book--which is how the book is marketed--and not enough substance or information for it to be legitimate social commentary. Oh, and one last thing, a minor geographic quibble: the Ozarks are not the deep south. They are the Ozarks. Trying to lump them together in any way is akin to comparing Bangor, Maine to Falls River, MA or Appalachia to the Gullah low country. So, there was some lovely syntax and descriptions of buildings and scenery in the book, but I think Paul Theroux is merely a tourist making a dime off the locals and looking to validate cherished presumptions. I don’t think he knows or understands the social climate of the deep south any more than I comprehend the strange appropriative gestures of affluent white Cape Cod travel writers.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Marie-Paule

    This book helps to understand what is going on in the US, nowadays. A lot of us, Europeans, are most familiar with the Eastern and Western Coast cities of the US, but few of us know what is going on in e.g. the Midwest and the South. This book provides a picture of the 'Deep South'. Paul Theroux has visited Southern states during the four seasons of the year, thereby avoiding large cities. Instead, we get an insight in what is happening in little towns and communities. At first, it seems a littl This book helps to understand what is going on in the US, nowadays. A lot of us, Europeans, are most familiar with the Eastern and Western Coast cities of the US, but few of us know what is going on in e.g. the Midwest and the South. This book provides a picture of the 'Deep South'. Paul Theroux has visited Southern states during the four seasons of the year, thereby avoiding large cities. Instead, we get an insight in what is happening in little towns and communities. At first, it seems a little strange that he pays more than on visit to one and the same place, but this helps - both for the writer and the reader - to look beyond the surface. Is the Deep South really part of the USA of, let's say, New York, Boston, Chicago, LA or DC? This book gives you a description and explanation of the 'We' and 'They'-feeling of many Southerners. It is for sure that the Civil War has left deep scars : it is as if the South has never completely overcome the humiliation of the Civil War, that destroyed 'the Southern way of life'. Maybe the Civil War took the power of initiative out of the hands of the Southerners? And what about the Civil Rights movement of the late 60's (where, again, the 'North' or the Federal Government told the Southerners how to organize society) and the supposed integration? Paul Theroux shows us that segregation is not overcome in the south. And 20 years later, the upcoming globalism struck the South again, with the closure of numerous small and large industries, leading to an overwhelming unemployment, or at least to the rise of the 'working poor'. It made me understand better why large parts of the USA became so sceptical of their own federal government. Theroux also explains how Religion contributes to an apocalyptic feeling, literally in a biblical way. Another way to understand the Deep South, is to read its literature, and Paul Theroux gives the reader a good understanding of how the 'condition humaine' of the South contributed to this unique type of Americal literature. Is there no hope for the South then? The Human Capital of the Southerners, born out of the heart and soul of their complex family histories, can lead to a new vitality in the South, Theroux says. Southerners themselves set up numerous initiatives to improve life in the South: housing projects, farming initiatives, healthcare and education projects,.... However, there is one thing that Paul Theroux doesn't understand, and with him many of his readers, I guess. The US spend billions of dollars on third world development projects in e.g. Africa and India. That's OK, but why oh why, don't they spend a fraction of these means in the Deep South, where some places have all the characteristics of third world communities? And knowing that president Clinton came from Arkansas in the Deep South, where is the contribution of the Clinton Foundation? Is it true after all, that there are some 'powers' in the South that favour a status quo, thus opposing change? Will the South for ever stay the same, as William Faulkner said : “The past is never dead. It's not even past.” ?

  24. 4 out of 5

    Tuck

    good for theroux fans, a fairly broad treatment of southern usa, some highlights for me being the black modern farm(er) portraits and his unflinching characterizations of many parts of usa being no better, and in many ways, much worse, than many places in africa. worse because there is very little long term traditions or cultures to take comfort in, and practically no help from govt or philanthropy, and well shit, usa IS one of the richest most modern countries in world, cept when youre poor. i d good for theroux fans, a fairly broad treatment of southern usa, some highlights for me being the black modern farm(er) portraits and his unflinching characterizations of many parts of usa being no better, and in many ways, much worse, than many places in africa. worse because there is very little long term traditions or cultures to take comfort in, and practically no help from govt or philanthropy, and well shit, usa IS one of the richest most modern countries in world, cept when youre poor. i didnt like some of his repetitions (he went to lots of gun shows, and reported on many of them, but alos interesting to me as ive never been to one ) and some of his generalizations, like arkansas being super racist (especially in north west AR where there are very few blacks or others of color) when he seemed to just barely scapred surface of interactions with people. that said, NW AR IS pretty bad, so it is easy to generalize that they are racist hill baptistbillys . anyway, long book, has good color photos, quite a bit a discussion about literature, bibliography and index. a good read

  25. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    From BBC radio 4 - Book of the Week Paul Theroux's account of his car journeys through America's southern states is timely, and abridged for radio by Katrin Williams: 1. He's in Tusacaloona, in a car park, thinking about going to church. In a vehicle beside him sits Lucille, all black silk and lacey sleeves - "You lost, baby?" Her welcoming words are typical of the South.. 2. In Greensboro he meets the impressive Rev. Eugene Lyles, aged 79, who has his own church, his own barber shop and runs the l From BBC radio 4 - Book of the Week Paul Theroux's account of his car journeys through America's southern states is timely, and abridged for radio by Katrin Williams: 1. He's in Tusacaloona, in a car park, thinking about going to church. In a vehicle beside him sits Lucille, all black silk and lacey sleeves - "You lost, baby?" Her welcoming words are typical of the South.. 2. In Greensboro he meets the impressive Rev. Eugene Lyles, aged 79, who has his own church, his own barber shop and runs the local diner on Main Street. So, time for a haircut, then some lunch. 3. The author stays at the 'Blue Shadows Bed and Breakfast' in Greensboro, and through its owner, Janet May, meets Randall Curb. And through Curb he will then encounter the legendary Mary Ward Brown, short story writer, aged 96. 4. At Aiken's steeplechase event he meets well-healed locals, mainly horse people and cotton baron descendents. Then he visits a hovel, once inhabited by Melvin Johnson, who has stories to tell. 5. He takes to the backroads of Georgia and Alabama, which smell of sun-heated tar. The fields are full of cotton and the big rivers beckon. Reader Henry Goodman Producer Duncan Minshull.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Rana

    I tried, I really tried. Theroux is one of my auto-buys, auto-reads. He holds such a special, tingly place in my heart being the author who introduced me to the whole entire travel fiction genre. But this? It just made me feel uncomfortable and kinda squicky. This definitely flirted with some issues with racism and porn poverty. I mean, come on. At one point he actually lists the first names of every child attending daycare in a predominantly black town. There is no fucking reason to do that tha I tried, I really tried. Theroux is one of my auto-buys, auto-reads. He holds such a special, tingly place in my heart being the author who introduced me to the whole entire travel fiction genre. But this? It just made me feel uncomfortable and kinda squicky. This definitely flirted with some issues with racism and porn poverty. I mean, come on. At one point he actually lists the first names of every child attending daycare in a predominantly black town. There is no fucking reason to do that than to say "haha, see what funny names African Americans name their children, they are so strange!" and point and laugh. So, yeah. I'm DNFing this about half-way through. I love Theroux but I don't love thinly veiled racism. And also...this then makes me question everything I've ever read about him. Does it not seem "as racist" when it's about another culture? For instance, his many books about traveling on the African continent. I'm DNFing this because I don't want to have to ruin an entire life's worth of reading and loving an author.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Fiona

    Paul Theroux travels around the Southern States, mainly Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama and Arkansas, drawing analogies between poverty there and poverty he has witnessed in Africa and India. It's a thoughtful account, if a bit repetitive at times. It seems the US administration ignores the deprivation on its own doorstep in favour of pumping millions of dollars into more glamorous projects in third world countries. The U.K. is guilty of the same thing. There is a short essay / interlude in which Paul Theroux travels around the Southern States, mainly Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama and Arkansas, drawing analogies between poverty there and poverty he has witnessed in Africa and India. It's a thoughtful account, if a bit repetitive at times. It seems the US administration ignores the deprivation on its own doorstep in favour of pumping millions of dollars into more glamorous projects in third world countries. The U.K. is guilty of the same thing. There is a short essay / interlude in which he explores the history and use of the 'n' word and another on Faulkner. All in all, an interesting and thought provoking book.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Erwin

    Well-written, insightful, shocking.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Mikey B.

    Page 197 (my book) As was so often the case, driving up a country road in the South was driving into the shadowy past. I found this a remarkable travel book and journey through the rural Southern U.S. – namely the states of North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas. The author encounters a vast array of Southerners with a variety of outlooks and all this leads to many compelling conversations. He attends church services, food and music festivals, gun shows... But genera Page 197 (my book) As was so often the case, driving up a country road in the South was driving into the shadowy past. I found this a remarkable travel book and journey through the rural Southern U.S. – namely the states of North and South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas. The author encounters a vast array of Southerners with a variety of outlooks and all this leads to many compelling conversations. He attends church services, food and music festivals, gun shows... But generally he witnesses a disenfranchised people living in poverty - meaning sub-standard housing, isolation, inferior schooling, and discrimination. Page 410 (in Arkansas) “People are poor here, but that’s a good thing for them. The economy don’t affect them. Up or down, they live just the same.” This man also mentioned that when he first moved to town from not far away, he had a visit from the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, who had driven from Harrison, encouraging him to join. I asked the man what his reply was to this dubious invitation. “I said, ‘You and me don’t have enough in common for that to happen!’” He hoicked a gob of tobacco juice into the street, punctuating his dry reply, then added, “He took it pretty good and went away.” The author visits the now dilapidated grocery store in Money, Mississippi where in 1955 14 year old Emmett Till had the audacity to look at a white woman in the eye – for which he was later lynched and killed. The priorities in the South would appear to be religion, guns and football – not necessarily in that order. Underlying all this is the pervasive code of race and the Civil War. As the author points out there are many Civil War monuments in the Eastern U.S., but in the South these are revered and give meaning to a Southern past that was eviscerated by the North. The South is still segregated in churches and schools – many affluent whites send their children to private schools. Whites, in various guises, exhibit their victimhood. Paul Theroux is never afraid to express his opinion and the book abounds with many commentaries. He explores into the people of the South. If I were a white Southerner I might have a visceral reaction to this book. There are several topics under examination, for example the writers of the South – and fortunately only a few very readable pages on that Southern institution William Faulkner! A few other notes: There are no maps. There is no index. Both would have been useful. The author goes on a derisive rant for a few pages on former President Bill Clinton. This seemed surprisingly personal. But all and all this is a highly recommended and probing book on the Southern U.S.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Julie Durnell

    This was quite an eye-opener for me. Extremely well-written and engaging with stories of the people Mr. Theroux met while traveling through the South during the four seasons of a year. "On a single visit I would not have seen this, but over the course of a year, in four seasons, the true condition of the town had become apparent. This was not a trip about my having a good meal or a bad meal, or my laboring toward a destination in the old travel-book manner. It may have seemed to some people I m This was quite an eye-opener for me. Extremely well-written and engaging with stories of the people Mr. Theroux met while traveling through the South during the four seasons of a year. "On a single visit I would not have seen this, but over the course of a year, in four seasons, the true condition of the town had become apparent. This was not a trip about my having a good meal or a bad meal, or my laboring toward a destination in the old travel-book manner. It may have seemed to some people I met that I was headed somewhere, but I was still traveling in widening circles, happily, on back roads, meeting people, and revisiting friends. He writes after completing his first journey in the autumn "After most trips you say, This is enough, I'll go home and write about it. This trip was done but the journey wasn't over, and my discoveries gave me an appetite for more. I had found that America had a peasant class, as hard-up and ignored and hopeless as any I had seen in the world." In many instances he compares this region to third world countries he's visited and written books detailing his adventures. Deep South is not a sweet tea infused kind of book, but definitely an honest and thought provoking one.

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