Excerpt from Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Strangers in Their Own Land

Anger and Mourning on the American Right

by Arlie Russell Hochschild

Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild X
Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2016, 368 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2018, 368 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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Print Excerpt

1
Traveling to the Heart

Along the clay road, Mike's red truck cuts slowly between tall rows of sugarcane, sassy, silvery tassels waving in the October sun, extending across an alluvial plain as far as the eye can see. We are on the grounds of the Armelise Plantation, as it was once called. A few miles west lies the mighty Mississippi River, pressing the soils and waste of the Midwest southward, past New Orleans, into the Gulf of Mexico. "We used to walk barefoot between the rows," Mike says. A tall, kindly white man of sixty-four, Mike removes his sunglasses to study an area of the sugarcane, and comes to a near stop. He points his arm out the truck window to the far left, "My grandma would have lived over . . . there." Moving his arm rightward, he adds, "My great uncle Tain's carpentry shop was about . . . there." Nearby was the home of another great uncle Henry, a mechanic nicknamed "Pook." A man called "Pirogue" ran the blacksmith shop where Mike and a friend hunted scraps of metal that shone, through his boyhood eyes, "like gold." His grandfather Bill oversaw the cane fields. Miss Ernestine's, Mike continued, was to the side of . . . that. A slim black woman, hair in a white bandana, Mike recalls, "She loved to cook raccoon and opossum for her gumbo, and we brought her what we had from a day's hunt, and Choupique fish too. I can hear her calling out the window when her husband couldn't start their car, 'Something's ailing that car.'" Then Mike points to what he remembers of a dirt driveway to his own childhood home. "It was a shotgun house," he muses. "You could aim right through it. But it held the nine of us okay." The house had been renovated slave quarters on the Armelise Plantation and Mike's father had been a plumber who serviced homes on and off it. Looking out the window of the truck, it's clear that Mike and I see different things. Mike sees a busy, beloved, bygone world. I see a field of green.

We pull over, climb down, and walk into the nearest row. Mike cuts us a stalk, head and tails it, and whittles two sticks of the fibrous sugarcane. We chew it and suck the sweetness from it. Back in the truck, Mike continues his reverie about the tiny bygone settlement of Banderville, finally dismantled only in the 1970s. About three quarters had been black and a quarter white, and they had lived, as he recalls it, in close, unequal, harmony. Mike had passed his boyhood in an era of sugar, cotton, and mule-drawn plows and his adulthood in the era of oil. As a teenager earning money over the summer for college, he had laid wooden boards through mosquito-infested bayous to set up oil-drill platforms. As a grown, college-educated man, he had trained himself as an "estimator"—calculating the size, strength, and cost of materials needed to construct large platforms that held oil-drilling rigs in the Gulf, and to create the giant white spherical tanks that stored vast quantities of chemicals and oil. "When I was a kid, you stuck a thumb out by the side of the road, you got a ride. Or if you had a car, you gave a ride. If someone was hungry, you fed him. You had community. You know what's undercut all that?" He pauses. "Big government."

We climb back in his red truck, take a swig of water (he has brought plastic bottles for us both), and continue edging forward through the cane as our conversation shifts to politics. "Most folks around here are Cajun, Catholic, conservative," he explains, adding with gusto, "I'm for the Tea Party!"

I'd first seen Mike Schaff months earlier standing at the microphone at an environmental rally on the steps of the Louisiana state capital in Baton Rouge, his voice cracking with emotion. He had been a victim of one of the strangest, literally earth-shaking environmental disasters in the nation, one that robbed him of his home and community—a sinkhole that devoured hundred-foot-tall trees and turned forty acres of swamp upside down, as I shall describe. That raised a big question in my mind. The disaster had been caused by a lightly regulated drilling company. But as a Tea Party advocate, Mike had hailed government deregulation of all sorts, as well as drastic cuts in government spending—including that for environmental protection. How could he be both near tears to recall his lost home and also call for a world stripped of most government beyond the military and hurricane relief? I was puzzled. I sensed a wall between us.

Copyright © 2016 by Arlie Russell Hochschild . This excerpt originally appeared in Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right, published by The New Press Reprinted here with permission.

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