Summary and book 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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  • Published:
    Sep 2020, 288 pages

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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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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.

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.

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