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Authors: V.S. Naipaul

A Turn in the South

BOOK: A Turn in the South
V. S. Naipaul

V. S. Naipaul was born in Trinidad in 1932. He went to England on a scholarship in 1950. After four years at Oxford he began to write, and since then he has followed no other profession. He is the author of more than twenty books of fiction and nonfiction and the recipient of numerous honors, including the Nobel Prize in 2001, the Booker Prize in 1971, and a knighthood for services to literature in 1990. He lives in Wiltshire, England.

V. S. N


The Writer and the World
Between Father and Son: Family Letters
Beyond Belief: Islamic Excursions Among the Converted Peoples
India: A Million Mutinies Now
A Turn in the South
Finding the Center
Among the Believers
The Return of Eva Perón
The Killings in Trinidad
India: A Wounded Civilization
The Overcrowded Barracoon
The Loss of El Dorado
An Area of Darkness
The Middle Passage


Half a Life
A Way in the World
The Enigma of Arrival
A Bend in the River
In a Free State
A Flag on the Island
The Mimic Men
Mr. Stone and the Knights Companion
Miguel Street
A House for Mr. Biswas
The Suffrage of Elvira
The Mystic Masseur

Published in an omnibus edition
The Nightwatchman’s Occurrence Book

, F

1989 by V. S. Naipaul

All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York. Originally published, in hardcover, by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York, in 1989.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Naipaul, V. S. (Vidiadhar Surajprasad), 1932–

A turn in the South / V. S. Naipaul. —1st Vintage international ed.

   p.   cm. —(Vintage international)

“A portion of this work was originally published in the New Yorker”—T.p. verso.

eISBN: 978-0-307-78928-0

1. Southern States—Civilization—20th century.  2. Southern States—Social life and customs—1865–  3. Naipaul, V. S. (Vidiadhar Surajprasad), 1932–  —Journeys—Southern States.  I. Title.

[F216.2.N35 1990]
975—dc20                                                                          89-40108

A portion of this work was originally published in
The New Yorker

Grateful acknowledgment is made to the following for permission to reprint previously published material:

Louisiana State University Press:
Selections from the poetry of James Applewhite. Reprinted by permission.

The Songwriter Guild of America:
Excerpt from “Late in the Day” by Timothy O’Brien. Copyright © 1987 by Pinspotter Music, Inc. Pursuant to secitons 304(c) and 401(b) of the U.S. Copyright Act. All rights administered by The Songwriters Guild of America.

Warner/Chappell Music Inc.:
Excerpt from “Eighteen Wheels and a Dozen Roses” by Gene Nelson and Paul Nelson. Copyright © 1988 by Warner-Tamerlane Publishing Corp., Believus or Not Music, Screen Gems-EMI Music. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

Polygram International Publishing Companies:
Excerpt from “Good Ole’ Boys Like Me” by Bob McDill. Copyright © 1979 by Polygram International Publishing, Inc. International copyright secured. All rights reserved. Used by permission.


There is a history in all men’s lives
Figuring the natures of the times deceased

14 April 1906
3 October 1953
In ever renewed homage

Down Home: A Landscape of Small Ruins

in New York as a designer and lettering artist. Howard was his assistant. Jimmy, who could become depressed at times, said to Howard one day, “Howard, if I had to give up, and you couldn’t get another job, what would you do?” Howard, who was from the South, said, “I would go home to my mama.”

Jimmy was as struck by this as I was when Jimmy told me: that Howard had something neither Jimmy nor I had, a patch of the earth he thought of as home, absolutely his. And that was where—many months after I had heard this story—I thought I should begin this book about the South: with the home that Howard had.

Howard arranged the visit. Jimmy decided to come with us. We went on the Easter weekend; the timing was pure chance.

It was raining, had been raining in New York for two days.

At La Guardia Howard said, “I hated the place when I was young, for the continuity.”

I thought he meant historical continuity, the past living on. But from other things he then said, I felt he meant only that it was a country place where little changed and little happened. I had this trouble with Howard’s words sometimes; I was too ready to find in them meanings he didn’t intend.

Howard was six feet tall, but slender and light of movement. He was in his late twenties or early thirties. He was very much his own
man. He lived alone, and he preferred not to live in Harlem. He was a serious reader of newspapers and magazines, and he had a special interest in foreign affairs. He liked to cook; and he kept himself fit by playing paddle ball on weekends. He was easy to be with, not spiky; and I put this down in part to the home he was so sure of and still close to.

Howard said, “You see how the South begins. More black people here, on the plane.”

Most of the passengers were black, and they were not like an African or West Indian crowd. They were almost subdued, going home from the big city for Easter.

We landed at Greensboro. It was a big airport; and then, just a few minutes away, proof of the scale of things here, there was another airport, just as big. We got off there. There were military people in the waiting areas. It was warmer than in New York; I changed into a lighter jacket.

Soon we were on the highway.

Howard said, “Look, the dogwood and the pines. It is what you see a lot of in the South.”

The dogwood was a small tree, and it was now in single-petaled white blossom. Not the dogwood of England, the water-loving red-stemmed shrub or small tree that made a bright autumn and winter show. And there were—Howard identified them for me—oaks and maples, in the freshest spring-green.

The land was flat, like the pampas of Argentina or the llanos of Venezuela. But trees bordered the fields and gave a human scale to things. We passed tobacco barns, tallish, squarish, corrugated-iron structures, where in the old days tobacco was cured. They were in decay, the corrugated iron rusted dark red, the wood weathered gray. Against the green this corrugated-iron rust was a lovely color; it gave an extra beauty to the land.

The highway looked like highways everywhere else in the United States: boards for motels and restaurants and gas stations.

Tobacco was still a crop. We saw the seedlings being mechanically planted: one black man on the tractor, two men on the trolley behind dropping earth-rooted seedlings down a shafted dibble. All this used to be done by hand, Howard said. He picked tobacco in the school holidays. The resin from the green leaf stained his hands black and was hard to clean off. I never knew about this black-staining resin from the
green leaf, but it was immediately comprehensible. It was for that resin, that tar, that people smoked the cured leaf.

We had driven so fast on the highway that we were in Howard’s area almost before I was ready for it. There was a small town center, a small rich white suburb attached to that town, and then outside that a black area. The differences were noticeable. But Howard, near his home now, appeared to claim both the white area and the black area.

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