January 21, 2016

Deep South by Paul Theroux

Is it weird that I love to look at small towns? I love to think about what it would be like to live in a tiny little podunk town. I tell myself I would be fine as long I can get Amazon delivery. This book tickled all my voyeuristic funny bones.

Paul Theroux has written many travel narratives over the last 50 years, including The Great Railway Bazaar about traveling on Asia's famous railways. He has been all over the world and written about it. He's been all over the world except for the Deep South region of his own country.

For this book he took four trips into Dixie in each of the four seasons. His decision to stick to the back roads resonated with me. I too like to take the two lane roads through small towns to get somewhere. Unlike on other trips, he returned to the same towns and people again and again. Little changed between visits. The same grinding poverty. The same race tensions. The same open, generous helpfulness.

I am not from the Deep South, but close enough that the people were familiar. Especially the oft heard refrain: "Kin ah he'p you in inny way?" Steve McCurry's photos were reminiscent of towns in my own area.

There are no answers in this book. Theroux does visit several organizations that are working to alleviate the desperation through housing initiatives and handouts, but as is pointed out numerous times, their operating budgets are minuscule compared to the hundreds of millions of dollars going to African nations. The conditions are remarkably similar between the two regions.

This book is recommended for people who like a sociological, close-up and personal look at every day life in another world.