Thank you to Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for providing me with an advanced copy of Paul Theroux's Deep South, in exchange for an honest review.
PLOT- Having spent his career traveling to far-flung corners of the world, travel writer, Paul Theroux, decides to focus his latest book on the American south. Deep South covers Theroux's years-spanning/multiple-trips to many cities in the south, where he meet residents and immerses himself in southern culture.
LIKE - Paul Theroux does not leave stones unturned, nor does he shy from controversial subjects. As a Californian, reading Deep South from the comfort of my living room, I often felt very uneasy for the situations that Theroux puts himself in, however, had he not, this book wouldn't have packed the same punch. Theroux goes to churches, gun shows, farms, impoverished towns; often crossing the perceptible racial divide, and always aware of his outsider status being a northerner.
Deep South was an eye-opener. Theroux's research is current, having taken place in the last few years, and he discovered that integration is still a major problem; including towns with school districts that have unofficially kept segregation alive, by sending their children to separate schools to keep with "tradition". As a Los Angeles native, this is crazy to me.
I was shocked by the level of poverty. Theroux, having experience in third-world countries, thought that many areas of the south, were worse off than what he had experienced in Africa. I like how he highlighted individuals who are working hard to make a difference in their communities, giving their plight a sense of hope. If he hadn't included these people, the problems would have felt insurmountable. There are many communities in dire need.
On a more fun-fact note, I learned that there are many Indian motel owners in the South, and that seventy percent of all Indian motel owners have the last name Patel. Even crazier, one-third of all independent motel owners in the United States, are named Patel. How's that for a factoid?
I enjoyed Theroux literary references. Deep South is sprinkled with mention of southern writers, and he includes a whole chapter on Faulkner. These are a reminder of the strong literary tradition in the south. Theroux also strings southern cuisine and music as themes through his book, themes that bind the people of the region.
DISLIKE- Deep South is long. It's repetitive in content. It seems like Theroux attends a billion gun shows, all with the same result. I think he could have been more selective with what was included, yet still have maintained the importance and impact of Deep South. Also, occasionally his tone towards a subject is off-putting and unnecessary.
RECOMMEND- Yes!!! Deep South was both affecting and rattling. It definitely shook me with regard to poverty and equality in my own country. This isn't to say that Theroux only focuses on the negative aspects of the South, he also writes about the beauty of both the people and the landscape.