Prior to starting Deep South, I hadn’t been introduced to the travel writing genre. But much to my surprise, I enjoy Paul Theroux. I turned to the first page assuming the author would essentially walk me through his journey, detailing the landscape and neighborhoods. If anything, I expected a novel similar to those Theroux pulls apart. The author discusses the falsehood surrounding many great American travel texts, such as John Steinbeck’s Travel’s with Charley: “This occurrence of the mock ordeal became a feature of travel narratives in America that has persisted to our own time” (Theroux 13). Likewise, Carl Thompson explains the debate surrounding the “typical” travel writing: “With the so-called ‘cultural’ or ‘literary’ turn of the 1970’s, the supposedly scientific objectivity of the geographic or ethnographic text was called into question” (4). Within Deep South, Theroux paints an insightful, yet old-time view of the South. Perhaps it’s because I’ve grown up in the given region, but I feel the necessity to praise Theroux for his seemingly innate attention to Southern traditions. He writes on Southern religion: “The question was often phrased as, ‘What church do you fellowship with?’ People asked it out of the blue” (37). He notes the perpetual number of eateries serving chicken liver and pies, as well as the relativity and acceptance of guns. Most importantly Theroux sheds light on race relations and differing ethnicities which make up the deep South, “relevant to a broad range of cultural, political, and historical debates” (Thompson 2). The author differentiates between the two Indian groups which made their way to the South years past. He speaks on those running “motels, gas stations, [and] convenience stores: they had a lock on them, and the first one stood for so many I was to find” (Theroux 25). In order to accurately define the Indian population of the South, Theroux mentions factors which drew the individuals to the Southern side of our nation: “For a number of years Indian doctors could access the fast track to a U.S. visa by agreeing to work in the poorer parts of America” (26). The Indian migration goes alongside Thompson’s thoughts on globalization, as well as its effect upon the popularity of travel writing “as a genre that can provide important insights into the often fraught encounters and exchanges currently taking place between cultures, and into the lives being led, and the subjectivities being formed, in a globalizing world” (2). After twenty-two years in Georgia, it’s heartbreaking to admit the racial inequality which continuously persists socially and economically throughout the South. Though no one hopes to come across the injustice in modern writing, Theroux’s venture into the outskirts of Allendale, North Carolina is an honest representation of the Southern area travelers and residence regularly ignore.
Here’s a video I found of Paul Theroux. He’s speaking to students and providing his advice for becoming a great writer. When I’m reading a novel, I always try to put a face to the name on the cover.
I’m excited to finish the remainder of Deep South, and I’m interested in hearing others’ takes on the author’s characterization of our home land!