An acclaimed travel writer and novelist’s engrossing account of his journey through the Deep South.
During his long, fruitful career, Theroux (Mr. Bones: Twenty Stories, 2014, etc.) has traveled to many exotic locations all over the world. Yet 50 years after he began as a travel writer, he was suddenly seized with a longing to travel through the hominess of the American South. Driving along rural highways and deliberately bypassing “buoyant cities and obvious pleasures,” he sought out the sights and people that he believed would help him understand a remarkable but profoundly troubled region. The green landscapes of the Deep South still included tobacco and cotton fields, both of which stood as reminders of the “persistence of history.” Even the many gun shows that Theroux visited seemed to recall the Old South’s preoccupation with defending not only its soil, but also its values against incursions from the North. For African-Americans, churches still served as spaces of “focus and respite from a hostile…majority [white] culture.” Memories of slavery and segregation even persisted in the geography, with whites living in the hills and mountains and blacks primarily inhabiting the agricultural flatlands. What stirred Theroux the most, however, was how so many of the places he observed resembled “what [was] often thought of as the Third World.” Despite encounters with lingering racism and deeply entrenched social and economic problems, the author found a warm welcome almost everywhere he went. Everyone—from barbers and welfare families to preachers and politicians—showered him with kindness, generosity, and, more often than not, stories. Broken by history but rich in culture and spirit, the South that Theroux came to know was “a dream, with all a dream’s distortions and satisfactions.” As thoughtful as it is evocative, the book offers insight into a significant region and its people and customs.
An epically compelling travel memoir.