Review Deep South – Paul Theroux
Mostly all of his books are my favorite, I’m going to add this one. Used to traveling far and wide, Paul Theroux wants to stay a little closer to home this time. In ‘Deep South’ he travels from his homestate of Massachusetts to the Southern States of the USA. To find that no matter where you’ve been on this earth, and no matter the different cultures you’ve been introduced to, the South has its own mystery. Being from ‘elsewhere’ you will always be a stranger to the ways of living there.
On the road
While the author loves to travel by train, this time he will take to the open, dusty and hot, roads by car. It’s the only way to discover the South. Roads that seemingly lead to nowhere, but upon looking closer reveal more than you want to know. After the Civil War, this part of the country seems to be largely forgotten by the people in charge.
Almost used to poverty (though you can never and should never get used to it) in African countries and Asia, the author found the poorest of the poor in his own country. Living well beneath the poverty line, in dusty, decrepit shacks and trailers, people try to get by, one day at a time. The main population is black. Maybe not surprising when you think of the ’50s and ’60s. But amazing and unbelievable in this day and age.
You’d think the days of segregation are long gone. Not so, in these parts. Still, blacks and whites eat in different restaurants, sit in different rooms and are looked upon with distrust by one another. I had no idea the Ku Klux Clan was still alive, but unfortunately they still operate frequently and in darkness. No, they won’t wear white sheets anymore, which probably makes it even more dangerous. In the cover of night, silent and secretive, they aim at colored people.
People are proud. And rightfully so. Still, as helpful as they are to strangers in their area, they slowly start to accept help from their neighbors. They seem to have given up on government. Too many rules, too many obstacles to obtain loans, with questions like: ‘You want to apply for a loan for your farm? I had no idea black people knew how to farm…’ Apparently it takes a very long time to get used to the idea that people are people, no matter what color their skin is.
Apparently the author was as surprised by this backpay thinking as al of us who had no idea. Also, he wonders why the government and projects (like Clinton’s who was raised in the South and must know about the horrible living situations) give millions of dollars to foreign aide. To help build houses and feed people in other parts of the world. All very good of course, but as I said before, the South seemed to have been forgotten by the rest of the country.
I was fortunate to visit the Southern States, while traveling the States during my first visit. I loved every second of it. Yes, we were warned not to walk the roads by ourselves for it could be dangerous. We never experienced any danger. In fact we were met by helpful people who wanted to share their stories. I loved the juicy way of talking, hard to understand for someone from the Netherlands, but lovely to hear. I definitely want to go back someday, as this land creeps in your blood. Whether you like it or not.
Paul Theroux is first and foremost a travel writer. He know how to hold your attention while he describes the places and people he meets. Always with respect, never judgmental. Thats why I love to read his books. He takes you with him on his travels and I’m grateful I got to know a little bit more of the mysteries of the South through this book.