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Reviews of The Deepest South of All by Richard Grant

The Deepest South of All

True Stories from Natchez, Mississippi

by Richard Grant

The Deepest South of All by Richard Grant X
The Deepest South of All by Richard Grant
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  • First Published:
    Sep 2020, 288 pages

    Paperback:
    Aug 2021, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Jane McCormack
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About this Book

Book Summary

Bestselling travel writer Richard Grant offers an entertaining and profound look at a city like no other.

Natchez, Mississippi, once had more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in America, and its wealth was built on slavery and cotton. Today it has the greatest concentration of antebellum mansions in the South, and a culture full of unexpected contradictions. Prominent white families dress up in hoopskirts and Confederate uniforms for ritual celebrations of the Old South, yet Natchez is also progressive enough to elect a gay black man for mayor with 91% of the vote.

Much as John Berendt did for Savannah in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and the hit podcast S-Town did for Woodstock, Alabama, so Richard Grant does for Natchez in The Deepest South of All. With humor and insight, he depicts a strange, eccentric town with an unforgettable cast of characters. There's Buzz Harper, a six-foot-five gay antique dealer famous for swanning around in a mink coat with a uniformed manservant and a very short German bodybuilder. There's Ginger Hyland, "The Lioness," who owns 500 antique eyewash cups and decorates 168 Christmas trees with her jewelry collection. And there's Nellie Jackson, a Cadillac-driving brothel madam who became an FBI informant about the KKK before being burned alive by one of her customers. Interwoven through these stories is the more somber and largely forgotten account of Abd al Rahman Ibrahima, a West African prince who was enslaved in Natchez and became a cause célèbre in the 1820s, eventually gaining his freedom and returning to Africa.

Part history and part travelogue, The Deepest South of All offers a gripping portrait of a complex American place, as it struggles to break free from the past and confront the legacy of slavery.

Chapter 1

I first heard about Natchez from a chef and cookbook writer named Regina Charboneau. I met her on the opening night of the Hot Tamale literary-culinary festival, which took place in a repurposed cotton gin surrounded by bare fields in the Mississippi Delta. The hulking old tin structure was hung with chandeliers and furnished with banqueting tables. Wineglasses and silverware glinted on white tablecloths. There were artisanal charcuterie stations, hundreds of well-dressed people milling around, a small army of bartenders pouring free wine and liquor.

Regina and I were both signing copies of our latest books at the author tables. I had written a true account of moving to rural Mississippi as an Englishman chewed up by New York City. Regina had published a handsome cookbook about the local cuisines along the length of the Mississippi River. She was warmhearted, witty and cosmopolitan, with a natural air of authority. She wore vintage cat-eye glasses and her dark hair in a bob....

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

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Grant weaves together Natchez's past and present, as well as lighter and heavier subject matter, rather seamlessly. His candid humor brings levity, while his attention to history provides important reflections on the area's past. Whether it be the intrigue of bizarre stories such as the "Goat Castle Murders" or the secrecy of the clandestine Black paramilitary group known as the Deacons of Defense, his writing will inspire in readers a desire to further explore the city of Natchez. In a pandemic world where travel has been greatly thwarted, Grant takes us to an astonishing place where "oddballs get free range" that is also steeped in the kinds of history lessons all Americans should know...continued

Full Review (573 words)

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(Reviewed by Jane McCormack).

Media Reviews

Los Angeles Times
Though filled with wild and woolly tales, Grant’s travelogue also posits Natchez as a stand-in for the nation and a guidepost pointing the way forward. He doesn’t shrink from describing the town’s annual Tableaux, a politically incorrect cringe-fest central to the Pilgrimage, but he notes some genuine and profound changes over the last decade.

Booklist (starred review)
Grant deftly and pointedly juxtaposes anecdotes of garden club turf wars among the city’s wealthy, white elite with appalling accounts of slave auctions, life under Jim Crow rule, and the continuing inequality still facing the city’s Black residents. At a time when our country once again attempts to confront its systemic racism, Grant’s potent examination of the confluence of white and African American cultures presents a timely overview of the source of many deep-seated misperceptions and struggles.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
[An] entertaining and informative travelogue...Readers will be enthralled by Grant's lively prose and the colorful contradictions of this unique and haunted place.

Kirkus Reviews
This richly layered book offers a multifaceted view of the culture and history of an American city that, in its history, reveals the roots of the racial conflicts that continue to haunt the American psyche. An entertaining and thought-provoking memoir and sociological portrait.

Author Blurb Katy Simpson Smith, author of The Everlasting
Yes, bourbon and hoopskirts. But also an eighteenth-century West African prince and an anti-Klan paramilitary group. Natchez is a place we call ‘unlikely,’ by which we mean its strangeness runs deeper, its violence burns brighter, even its openings for reconciliation seem wider. Yet Grant wisely suggests that these eye-popping tales reveal a story about race that is neither curious nor unique, but wholly American. In this testament to how stories define us all, Grant, frank and empathetic, makes us root for Natchez the way we should root for our own towns.

Reader Reviews

Cathryn Conroy

A Southern "Twin Peaks": An Eye-Popping, Almost Unbelievable, and Absolutely Fascinating Book
As I was mentally struggling with the best way to describe this book, the perfect line was uttered by one of the younger residents of Natchez, Mississippi: "This whole town is like a Southern Twin Peaks." Indeed. Englishman Richard Grant...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

The Parchman Ordeal

Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman Richard Grant's The Deepest South of All examines the aftermath of slavery in the Deep South through the lens of Natchez, Mississippi. One clear inference that can be made from his Natchezian narratives is that the past must be confronted before it can lay dormant in its grave. Unfortunately, history is often written with its authors only addressing that which they personally deem important. Grant raises this issue in his exploration of Natchez when he broaches the glaring oversight of the Parchman Ordeal.

The Parchman Ordeal occurred in Natchez in October, 1965, when nearly 150 primarily Black protestors were arrested and taken to the notorious Mississippi State Penitentiary at Parchman, where they were stripped, searched, taunted ...

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