Maria’s staff pick: ‘Deep South,’ by Paul Theroux

by Clint McKnight

Deep South, by Paul Theroux

After a lifetime of riding the rails in some of the most inconvenient places on Earth, Paul Theroux turns his attention to the rural American South. There are no graceful mansions in this Dixie, no stirring Civil War memorials, just a neglected piece of America that Theroux clearly believes more Americans should be aware of.

As he drives a wandering, circling route – so different from his famous linear train travels – Theroux relishes the freedom of his car, and meets people, white and black, and immigrants, such as “the inevitable Mr. Patel.” There are church pastors, gun-show patrons, motel owners and subsistence farmers. Many of them are poor folks with no opportunity to raise themselves up, living in a part of America where the lack of economic investment leaves them stranded in crumbling towns barely worthy of the name.

Theroux recalls the region’s long history of troubled race relations and measures its relentless toll. He meets embittered sons of the sons of the losers of the Civil War, where humiliation still hangs in the southern air like moss on an oak tree.

If there’s one message that the veteran world traveler Theroux wants readers to get, it’s that Americans need not look to blighted locations in Africa or Asia to volunteer their time and teary liberal intentions. There are human beings just barely getting by in a vast part of the homeland who desperately need their efforts, and they live just down the road, in the Deep South.

— Clint McKnight

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