Scrupulously researched and teeming with facts and citations ... Any attempt to classify this ambitious work, which straddles genre, kicks down the fourth wall, dances with poetry, engages with literary criticism and flits from journalism to memoir to academic writing — well, that’s a fool’s errand and only undermines this insightful, ambitious and moving project ... Perry travels to over a dozen Southern cities and towns, excavating both histories and modern realities ... At each stop, she recounts an atrocity, but also resistance. And she does not flinch when documenting the consequences ... Her tone grows tender as she recalls her dancing cousins or the foot-washing Baptists. Her portraits of her grandmother combine elegiac longing and the rigor of a historian setting the record straight. Equally moving are the dispatches from her mother’s native Louisiana ... It is inevitable, though, that all sites will not receive equal care and attention — and clearly her loyalty is to Alabama ... It must be said that this work, though sometimes uneven, is an essential meditation on the South, its relationship to American culture — even Americanness itself.
Provocative ... [Perry] accepts the challenge of speaking for the region. And in the process, she throws down her own gauntlet, presenting her essays as a cautionary tale for what the future may hold if we don’t pay heed ... Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Perry grew up in Massachusetts and Chicago, and currently lives near Philadelphia. That distance from the region has given her a unique perspective as she ventures back to her roots and views it anew ... Perry scrutinizes the destination, and plucks threads from its history, its culture, its personality; then she weaves them together to tell a story about the place that reflects, informs, or portends our national psyche. The result is a compelling, thought-provoking read sure to spark both consensus and debate, but ultimately it serves to illustrate just how much race impacts life in this country.
... engrossing if erratic ... The book's pleasures are many. Perry shines when she's present in the narrative, an archaeologist troweling through strata of history and culture. Her vignettes spark off the page ... Unfortunately, these evocative moments are overwhelmed by a strident op-ed voice, ginned up by conjecture ... and a stream-of-consciousness delivery. South to America is, at best, an impressionistic overview of this inscrutably complex region. Perry tosses off obligatory lines about revered figures such as Dolly Parton (good), Flannery O'Connor (bad) and Thomas Jefferson (very bad); but evangelical churches, SEC football and Rotary Club luncheons don't ping her radar ... Too often her editorializing reinforces stereotypes rather than diffusing them ... an immersive read, but in the end it's blinkered by a failure to illuminate the homeland for those of us born and raised there, and who crave—sweet Lord, how we crave—a deeper wisdom and clarity among the scorching contradictions.
In this highly personal travelogue, she brings readers along to absorb her observations and internal dialogue ... One of the things that is powerful about this book is Perry’s talent for juxtaposing history with the present ... Perry lets us hear what the voices have to tell us, so we can make up our own minds about where we are and how far we’ve come ... There is no question that Perry’s book will make some readers uncomfortable. But the brutalities of slavery, racism, and the aftermath of the Civil War have always been uncomfortable. South to America lays a foundation for those who are unfamiliar with the South’s history. Through her interviews and research, Perry ties the ends together, but there is no neat conclusion. It is heavy reading, but it is definitely worth the lift.
Imani Perry’s rangy, observant book, South to America, is in large part an attempt to undo that reflex, to expose multiple Souths. Indeed, she argues, conventional wisdom has it exactly backward: the resistance to the diversity of the South reveals a racist instinct to apply uniformity that has infected the rest of the country ... it’s modeled after Albert Murray’s 1971 book about his Alabama roots, South to a Very Old Place. But where Murray could often be sardonic, Perry is more plainspoken and omnivorous, determined to reveal the range of cultures that overflow from her travels. Although the legacy of slavery is omnipresent, she honors places where it was transcended ... Perhaps by necessity, Perry’s book is disorderly — now celebratory, now lamenting, now observant ... Although Perry doesn’t proffer a Grand Unified Theory of the South, twoness is ever-present, albeit in different forms in Alabama, Florida, or the Carolinas. One of the book’s most powerful chapters chronicles Perry’s search for details on an early ancestor of hers ... South to America is a model for what that collage can look like.
The South has been stereotyped and corralled, its vibrant complexity and profound influence due for renewed and rigorous attention. Perry...accomplishes exactly that in this saturated, gorgeously written, and keenly revelatory travelogue ... By sharing her own family history, including her parents’ activism, she emphasizes the essential role of southerners in the Black Power movement. Perry’s southern tour is intimate and encompassing, finely laced and steely, affecting and transformative.
Perry...interweaves personal and regional history in this impressionistic study of the American South. Adding depth and nuance to standard portrayals of 'lost cause' narratives of white supremacy...Perry’s meditations range far and wide, alluding to literary theorists, basketball stars, Supreme Court rulings, and her own ancestors with equal familiarity and insight, though the breadth often comes at the expense of depth, particularly when she is relating historical events, such as abolitionist John Brown’s 1859 raid on the federal armory at Harper’s Ferry. Still, this is a rich and imaginative tour of a crucial piece of America.
... an intimate, penetrating journey through the South ... she engagingly chronicles her visits to communities that embody the term 'broken oasis,' efforts of Black Americans to embrace the nation’s politics and culture while remaining independent ... A graceful, finely crafted examination of America’s racial, cultural, and political identity. Perry always delivers.