The new travel book by Paul Theroux, Deep South: Four Seasons on Back Roads, is very good.
Theroux, renowned novelist and travel writer, who has travelled extensively in Africa, India, Central Asia and the Pacific, decides to leave his East Coast, USA home and travel in the Deep Southern States: Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana. He explores the rural hinterlands where people and towns are impoverished, tattered, and forgotten. The same people and places offer moments of grace, joy and determination but it is thought-provoking and sometimes hard reading. Churches abound, offering hope and some sort of social glue (as do the myriad gun shows to their particular congregationists) in a region where so many jobs have gone overseas, where the civil rights movement of the 1960s and resulting federal legislation, has resulted in a surly, edgy, very boundaried detente between whites and blacks. This seems a far more serious version of the hatred filled, distrusting handshakes forced on fighting children by grown-ups, trying to stop their enmity and inequality erupting in violence.
Theroux experiences charming and genuine hospitality in most places, from most people and allows various viewpoints and attitudes to be aired. As he says, he is there to listen and observe and record. His writing is measured and quiet, and he asks some pertinent questions about the millions – billions – US groups, foundations and charities pour into African aid programmes when he sees the disconcertingly Third World poverty that lies beside the First World-quality roads he driving down.