Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Famed travel writer Paul Theroux finally writes about the South and gets most of it right, critic says

A famed American travel writer who has visited most of the world, but until recently had never been to the Deep South, has now published a travel book about his experiences in the region, entitled, "Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads," reports Gina Webb, book critic for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For his 10th travel book the New England native "decided to steer clear of big cities and the 'Old Magnolia South,' sticking to the 'Lowcountry, the Black Belt, the Delta, the backwoods, the flyspeck towns' in rural Mississippi, South Carolina, Arkansas and parts of Tennessee, North Carolina and Georgia."

"The cumulative four seasons worth of road trips resulted in a deeply affecting, personal account of a region Theroux says held him 'sometimes in a comforting embrace, occasionally in its frenzied and unrelenting grip'," Webb writes. "Anchoring the journey are three main destinations: country churches, gun and knife expos and restaurants, where Theroux closely observes and interviews the locals—residents, workers, farmers, writers, store owners, reverends, mayors, community developers. Their stories reveal what it was like to grow up during Jim Crow, how much progress has been made or lost since then, and how, in wastelands devoid of any economic pulse, people still cling to hope."

"At every bend in the road, Theroux finds 'fractured communities and dying towns,' meets people 'as hard-up and ignored and helpless as any I had seen in the world' and compares them to countries in Africa, where 'hundreds of millions in aid' shame the paltry thousands allotted our own backyard. Riding shotgun, the reader becomes both passenger and witness."

"Southern dialect may be one of the only things Theroux doesn’t get right about the South," Webb writes. "But chalk up his cartoonish interpretations—'Ahmo just leave mah money heah fo y’all'—to his Yankee ear; it’s a genuine attempt to convey the friendliness, the musicality, of country folks." (Read more)

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