In this blend of memoir, history and travel diary, Princeton University Professor Imani Perry narrates a trip back to her native home below the Mason Dixon line. Her journey is full of detours, deep dives and surprising encounters with places and people through which Perry unfolds a narrative about the South and its centrality to American identity.
... 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.
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.