Pragmatism: An Introduction
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A Turn In The South

A Turn In The SouthA Turn In The South by V.S. Naipaul
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've long admired Naipaul's prose and the keen observational ability he brings to his travel writing. This book from the late 1980's is about a few months spent in the American South, traveling through the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee. This was at a time when the "New South" was emerging and the generations of the Civil Rights struggle were still around. Naipaul covers these trends, mostly through a series of interviews that include politicians, preachers, teachers, farmers, poets, and a number of ordinary people both black and white.

As an Indian raised in Trinidad but thoroughly British, he floats through these communities in ways that someone more obviously either black or white would not have. He writes with a deep curiosity and desire to understand everyone. Most interesting in this regard are his efforts to understand "rednecks."

He realizes early in the trip that the American southeast has many similarities to Trinidad and the Caribbean culture he was raised in. This is not something I seen brought to such clarity before. It is his opinion that the great difference between the South and the islands is that when slavery ended in the islands that the white planter class mostly departed, returning to Europe, which allowed the island cultures to develop black leadership much earlier. Also, the American South had an entire class of poor and working class whites which were largely absent in the islands. This had set up an on-going conflict between poor whites and poor blacks for limited resources, especially as the agricultural economy that had sustained the region was collapsing.

Naipaul also traveled in Muslim countries, trying to understand the religion and its adherents. I've read and deeply admired one of those books. He begins to realize on this trip that the fundamentalism of the American South also has many points of similarity to Islamic fundamentalism. I doubt many were making this connection in the 1980's.

Overall the book is not as well-structured as some of his others (There seems to be too much material). And some of the observations are, of course, now dated. But I also enjoyed seeing this familiar region through different eyes.

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