Cover Image: South to America

South to America

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Member Reviews

It's hard for me to give this book a star rating, partly because it's difficult to classify, so I'm not sure how to evaluate it. The narrative is personal and specific, while at the same time making broad statements about "we" Americans and conjecturing about the thoughts and feelings of others. While Perry is an astute observer and a deep thinker, this book was not for me. It's quite meandering and nonlinear; it also assumes the reader learned about or remembers the historic events mentioned. I would have liked more description of the places, a bit more review or context in the historical events she describes, and less of the philosophical musings on broad swaths of people. I was expecting more of a persuasive stance backed by research in addition to personal experience, whereas Perry is doing more observing and meditating, which brings the essays close to poetry, but not close enough for me to read them as such. I wasn't familiar with Perry's work before this; if I had been, I probably would have had different expectations. I heard her speak on a panel about this book and found her ideas and comments very interesting, yet the book feels a bit advanced and academic for a general audience.
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Dr. Imani Perry is the best professor I never had. Everything I have read of hers challenges and inspires me to think about history and liberation in new ways. She tweeted (October 2021), “Ancestors, integrity, study, love <— my guides”. This could not be more evident in South to America. It is a breathtaking exploration and rethinking of the American South and the Global South.

This book moves between being geographical (“Is DC the South?”) and thematic (tracing the Black Power movement to the South). She references writers, artists, and activists of previous generations as well as her own family history and personal experiences while traveling. Her journey below the Mason-Dixon highlights the contradictions and complexities of the South and how they are central to the identity of America itself – including the cruelty toward Black, Indigenous, and immigrant people.

I love the ways she expands on Faulkner’s assertion that the past isn’t even past, that “we live in it as a changing same.” She connects current events to colonialism and/or the origins of America. Despite detailing the deeply rooted violence of the South, this is ultimately a hopeful book. One of the passages from the book that will stay with me is one of the last in the book, “If America is to be salvific, it can only be so because underneath our skyscrapers lie the people who have tasted the red clay, the loamy soil. Lashed, hidden, running, captured. Crucified for gain, bloodying the soil. If their dreams can become “we” dreams, hope will spring.”

Thank you to HarperColins Publishers, NetGalley, and Dr. Imani Perry for the great opportunity to review South to America before it’s release in January 2022. Dr. Perry is one of my favorite authors, and it was an honor to read this advance reader’s copy.
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This is a good book if you are looking for a personal reflection about race and social/cultural history.  It puts a lot of America's current debates about race into historical context.
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Read if you: Want a "traveling/reporting on the South" narrative that rises above recent similar titles. 

I usually shy away from "traveling/reporting on the South" books; however, when I learned about this one, written by a Black woman, I wanted to read it; it's a perspective not often seen in these books. This is harrowing reading at times, but also quite joyful at times. 

Librarians/booksellers: Definitely purchase to include a different perspective on books about the modern South. 

Many thanks to Ecco and NetGalley for a digital review copy in exchange for an honest review.
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