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Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads by…
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Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads

by Paul Theroux

Other authors: Steve McCurry (Photographer)

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» See also 16 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
I realise that this books looks at the South via its history, literature, present state (of decay) and especially its people. This being Theroux's main focus - and providing the one and only positive view on the South - it is obvious that he gives a voice to as many people as possible, which explains the volume of the book. But regularly, Theroux reiterates the immediately obvious insight that the South is decrepit in its economy, its behaviour in handling ethnic diversity and its future outlook. That doesn't make the message of the book any more urgent - the contrary is the case. That apart, however, I deeply cherished the outcome of his - as usually - simple approach of getting people to tell their stories and of choosing and retelling them in a very intelligent, yet authentic way!
  Kindlegohome | Mar 16, 2018 |
Needs more editing, not clear if he stereotypes the people he meets. When I first heard about this book, I thought this would be a great read. I've never read anything about Theoroux, but it sounded like a fantastic text to learn more about an area that I've never been to and don't know anyone who's been in the "deep" South. I've known people who have lived/worked in the urban, more populated areas, but not the deeper, more rural South. So it seemed like a GREAT opportunity to learn more about the area.
 
It's not. It appears the author spent a year (or so) driving around, meeting people. Having not been in the area and not knowing that much, I can't help but wonder how much of this is stereotypes and how much is a true portrayal. I'm sure this is probably very true and real in some aspects, but I've seen enough reviews from people saying it's not.
 
Honestly, I had to be skeptical early on. He travels to an office and is late by 15 minutes. He then notices there are two employees who seem exceptionally nervous and he is then berated by a woman for being late. Instead of apologizing, he writes: "My lateness did not seem serious enough for an apology, nor so serious that it merited this incessant bollocking from the woman before me" (pg 83 in the US hardcover edition). When the woman says "I'm black" he writes "She was not black at all. She could have been biracial, she could have been Sicilian, she could have been--and probably was--part Cherokee or Choctaw. 'I'm black' seemed half protest, half boast.'" (pg 83 HC)
 
Apparently what was the most upsetting thing to the author was that this woman had no idea who he was (travel writer). Just above this section it appears he needs to have the concept of "white privilege" explained to him. And while there is much that is left out (what office this is, WHY was he actually late, why was he visiting her, WHO was she etc.) I found this section disturbing. He feels he's done nothing wrong and never apologizes, feels he could assume what her identity was based on looks (and having just met her!) and basically portrayed this woman as very angry for apparently (to the reader) no reason.
 
I fully respect that the exchange may have happened exactly this way and she was either having a bad day and taking it out on the author or hated visitors or hated white people as the author hears from someone else at the end of this part. But after this section I couldn't help but feel very jaded--he made an effort to learn and listen to others he encountered, why didn't he do the same for this woman? How much of his assumptions and stereotypes did he hold while visiting and writing this book as a whole? Did any of his feelings change after visiting? Or did he only go to confirm what he thought he knew about the South?
 
Also, the book badly needs better editing. It reads like a bunch of journal entries with no overarching theme or storyline (which is handy to pick up and put down, but hard to keep attention on it). He always has some several page sideline at the start of each section where he often talks about books or language but aside from the first interlude I had trouble understanding what was the point of the others aside from the impression that he just loves his own voice.
 
Overall the author comes across as condescending and a bit smug (specifically in his strange meanderings about words and books). It was interesting (particularly when he talks about the history such as the lives of Emmitt Till or Essie Mae Washington-Williams, daughter of the late senator, Strom Thurmond) and I do understand that at least some of what he wrote is true. But It's overly long, sometimes repetitive and I'm not sure he accomplished anything.
 
Library if you're really interested, but I'd remain skeptical.
 
  ( )
  acciolibros | Feb 11, 2018 |
Joy's review: Theroux travels throughout the deep South returning often to places and people over 4 seasons. He focuses on poverty and race and racial relations. For me, Theroux provided many helpful sights and glimpses into lives I will probably never be exposed to. He has a couple of axes to grind (for example, he tells us often that the Clinton Foundation should be focused on the South rather than Africa) and he uses every opportunity to demonstrate is expansive and deep reading of southern literature. Still, I'm much better informed and have more understanding of the South than I did going in. ( )
  konastories | Jun 10, 2017 |
I was hesitant to read this book. I really do like the author's Tavel books as well as his fiction, but with his travel books he can be a bit of a stereotypical New England liberal, and I thought this book would be him going down south to point out how backwards all of the gun-loving, poverty stricken rednecks were. This could not be further from what the author describes.
I have traveled through some of the areas this book covers but was blind to just how depressed the the people and the economy is for them. I experienced some of the levels of racism, he describes, but again nothing like what he has the opportunity to describe. And the reasons given behind it, from both white and black people alike.
He is especially hard on Bill Clinton (good lord what a colossal disaster NAFTA was for this part of the country, not to mention how little he did as governor of one of the poorest states, but home to the small town economy wrecking Goliath Walmart) and the tech billionaires who fall all over themselves to pat themselves on the back for everything they have done in Africa, while completely ignoring America's own version of Africa in the southern part of our country. It is truly appalling how little attention this area receives, how everyone brushes off this disaster by saying oh those people are lazy, gun loving, bible thumping redneck southerners.
This book gives the reader an introductory look at the south and race relations without adding opinions from the author but rather hearing it from those who live there an believe it or experience it.
The author discusses the power and hold the church has on so many in the south, and the reasons for it. He also has a wonderful statement regarding extremes that are quoted in the Bible and are used to justify racism, and other forms of hatred. I will paraphrase:
"The Bible is often a happy hunting ground for an unbalanced mind"
I think The same could be said of any religious documents and the extremes followers use, as justification.
Overall this is a fantastic book that I did not want to end. ( )
  zmagic69 | Feb 11, 2017 |
I have read many of Paul Theroux's travel books, and this one 'hits closest to home', despite the fact that I haven't really travelled in the South, and I didn't live in this country during many of the historical episodes he talks and interviews people about. But, this is probably the most ethically challenging book for Americans, at least of the ones I have read so far. He describes, in pain and despair at times, how the South was left behind, ignored, underfunded, and how money that could have helped this region is instead sent abroad. What would the South have looked like with a better funded educational system and living towns? I don't see that Theroux has a particular political agenda, instead he tells it as it is, even when it is unfair, unromantic, depressing, dirty, hopeful, or simply loveable. This book is realistic and sets its mark on you, at least if you are willing to just read, listen, and learn. I will never look at the southern US states like before after reading this book. ( )
1 vote klockrike | Jun 6, 2016 |
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Paul Therouxprimary authorall editionscalculated
McCurry, StevePhotographersecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0544323521, Hardcover)

One of the most acclaimed travel writers of our time turns his unflinching eye on an American South too often overlooked

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. 
 
From the writer whose “great mission has always been to transport us beyond that reading chair, to challenge himself — and thus, to challenge us” (Boston Globe), Deep South is an ode to a region, vivid and haunting, full of life and loss alike.

(retrieved from Amazon Tue, 14 Apr 2015 01:16:42 -0400)

"One of the most acclaimed travel writers of our time turns his unflinching eye on an American South too often overlooked. 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. From the writer whose 'great mission has always been to transport us beyond that reading chair, to challenge himself--and thus, to challenge us' (Boston Globe), Deep South is an ode to a region, vivid and haunting, full of life and loss alike"--… (more)

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