Friday, April 22, 2011

Review: Look Away, Dixieland: A Carpetbagger's Great-Grandson Travels Highway 84 in Search of the Shack-up-on-Cinder-Blocks, Confederate-Flag-Waving, Squirrel-Hunting, Boiled-Peanuts, Deep-Drawl, Don't-Stop-the-Car-Here South

  • Author:  James Twitchell
  • Hardcover: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Louisiana State University Press (March 18, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807137618
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807137611

From Goodreads

As a boy, James Twitchell heard stories about his ancestors in Louisiana and even played with his great-grandfather's Civil War sword, but he never appreciated the state and the events that influenced a pivotal chapter in his family history. His great-grandfather, Marshall Harvey Twitchell, a carpetbagger from Vermont, had settled in upstate Louisiana during Reconstruction, married a local girl, and encountered much success until a fateful day in August 1874. The dramatic story of the elder Twitchell's life and near assassination fuels the author s pursuit of his family s history and a true understanding of the South.

In Look Away, Dixieland, Vermont-native Twitchell sets out from his current home in Florida on the inauguration day of America s first black president to find the real South and to try to understand the truth about his illustrious ancestor. He travels in an RV from Georgia s Okefenokee Swamp across Alabama and Mississippi to Coushatta, Louisiana. As he drives through the heart of Dixie, Twitchell sorts through the prejudices he learned from his northern rearing. In searching for the culture he had held at arm's length for so long, he tours small-town southern life in campgrounds, cotton gins, churches, country fairs, and squirrel dog kennels and uncovers some fundamental truths along the way. Notably, he discovers that prejudices of race, class, and ideology are not limited by geography. As one man from Georgia mockingly summed up North versus South stereotypes, ''Y'all are rude and we re stupid.''

Unexpectedly, Twitchell also uncovers facts about his great-grandfather and sheds new light on his family's past. An enlightening, humorous, and refreshingly honest search, Look Away, Dixieland reveals some of the differences and similarities that ultimately define us as a nation.

About the Author

James B. Twitchell lives in Gainesville, Florida, and Charlotte, Vermont, with his wife, Mary. He was a professor of English at the University of Florida for many years and is the author of, among others, Twenty Ads That Shook the World; Living It Up: Our Love Affair with Luxury; Branded Nation: The Marketing of Megachurch, College, Inc., and Museumworld; and Where Men Hide.

My Review

I've always been fascinated by the American South so I read this book with great interest.  It is a history book in that it recounts the story of "carpetbagger" Marshall Harvey Twitchell, the great-grandfather of the author.  And it is a travelogue in that it describes the RV journey undertaken by the author and his wife along Highway 84 through the Deep South.  It was a really interesting read.  Like most people I had never heard of the massacre at Colfax or Coushatta, both in Louisiana.  The knowledge of these events and how they fit into the decline of reconstruction of the US South was very enlightening.  I also found the description of the area along Highway 84 to be quite fascinating.  I appreciate that the author was curious about his family's history and that he needed to know the whole story.   If you are interested in the history, geography and sociology of the US South then this is a must read.

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