Book Review – Deep South

Deep South

Paul Theroux

Paperback: 441 pages

Publisher: Penguin (3 Mar. 2016)

ISBN-10: 0241969352

ISBN-13: 978-0241969359

I saw this in the shop and thought this would be a good chance to learn something about the southern states of the USA. After reading quite a few crime novels based in the South I thought I ought to learn something about it.

I was expecting poverty, religion and racism and that’s what I got.

The religion, and its role in society was quite exotic for someone in the UK. For most of us, it doesn’t play a big part in our lives, and I’ve certainly never had my hair cut by a man who has his own church. I was hoping that he would visit a church that used snakes, but he didn’t. He didn’t eat much barbecue either, but I suppose you can’t have everything.

The poverty, on the other hand, is discussed in terms that seem fairly universal. Loss of traditional industry, lack of education, poor housing, production moved overseas – all of it could be true of many places.

It’s more interesting when he discusses the growing trend for African-American families to move into farming, and the various routes they have taken. Apart from that you can’t really tell you are in the South. Conversations in development agencies, for instance, seem to run along the same lines whether you are in the UK or the USA.

There was plenty on racism, including discussion of the Civil Rights movement and the current situation, which doesn’t seem to have moved on as much as you would have thought. I’m not going to develop this discussion because there is too much scope for putting my foot in it.  Just let’s say that it gave me food for thought.

To sum up, there’s a lot to this book, but while it gave me much to think about, it also seemed to leave a lot undone. It seems too long, partly due to digressions about previous travels and Southern literature, and partly due to repetition of things like Gun Shows, but in some areas it just didn’t go deep enough.

Not a bad book, but an unsatisfactory one. Would I recommend it? Probably not.

Sorry to be so negative for two reviews in a row, that’s just how it is.








16 thoughts on “Book Review – Deep South

  1. Lavinia Ross

    My father, who was almost 50 when I was born, was from the hills of eastern Kentucky. Racism and poverty were present, right along with religion, and a good, hardworking and neighborly side to the people as well. Another book I would recommend be be “Wide Neighborhoods” by Mary Breckinridge. My mother, who was 47 when I was born, worked as a nurse in the Frontier Nursing Service, way back when. 🙂

    1. quercuscommunity

      I always think of the South being more like you describe than the picture produced by Theroux. I last read him 40 years ago and one of us has changed, as I recall him being much better in those days.

  2. Laurie Graves

    Slavery and racism have blighted this country from the beginning, and they continue to do so, even though slavery has been abolished for some time. In an unjust system, all are punished. I wasn’t planning on reading this book, and your review just reinforces my decision.

  3. jfwknifton

    You are right about religion. Organised religion doesn’t play a great role in many lives in the whole of north western Europe in my opinion. Now we all worship Important celebrities and they have become our prophets. And we all talk to our gods on the mobile phone.

  4. arlingwoman

    I was wondering what your take on Theroux would be. I’d had quite enough of him by the time this came out, so I haven’t read it. He is deeply unpleasantly misanthropic and the South can give lots of material to someone looking for the dark side–because it’s there. On the lighter side, my father grew up in northern Alabama and was familiar with the snake handlers, some of whom still resided around Sand Mountain, Georgia when I was growing up. There are little pockets of them around still in Kentucky i think. Sorry Theroux didn’t cover them…


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