No. 30: “A Turn in the South” by V.S. Naipaul
Travel Blog • Tom Swick • 05.02.06 | 11:33 AM ET
To mark our five-year anniversary, we’re counting down the top 30 travel books of all time, adding a new title each day this month.
Territory covered: The American South
In deceptively simple prose conveying complex insights, the great novelist and travel writer V.S. Naipaul penetrates what may be the most impenetrable region of the United States. And he would seem to be the perfect chronicler of the place: a man who feels he doesn’t belong anywhere amidst people who feel they don’t belong anywhere else. Each of the seven chapters is devoted to a city or town—Atlanta, Charleston, Tallahassee, Tuskegee—and Naipaul is often helped in his understanding of each by a long-time resident who patiently, sagely, shows him around. Telling observations from the author are interspersed with long passages of reported speech. His almost ornithological fascination with spotting a “redneck” is balanced by his steadfast determination to look beyond the stereotypes. The last chapter, on North Carolina tobacco culture, is a masterpiece of meticulous reporting and illuminating reflection.
Outtake from A Turn in the South:
The land was flat, like the pampas of Argentina or the llanos of Venezuela. But trees bordered the fields and gave a human scale to things. We passed tobacco barns, tallish, squarish, corrugated-iron structures, where in the old days tobacco was cured. They were in decay, the corrugated iron rusted dark red, the wood weathered gray. Against the green this corrugated-iron rust was a lovely color; it gave an extra beauty to the land.
—Thomas Swick is the travel editor of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and the author of A Way to See the World: From Texas to Transylvania with a Maverick Traveler. He was recently a guest blogger on World Hum.