One of the best things about reading is that it can take you to places you’ve never been, or if you have actually visited those places, you can gain a different perspective on them by seeing through the author’s eyes. If you’re fascinated by the American South, whether you’ve lived there all your life or if you’ve never been, here are four novels that illuminate Southern life and culture:
The murder of Emmett Till, a black boy who dared to whistle at a white woman, was one of the major events that started the African-American Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 60s. Wolf Whistle is a fictional account of the events that happened, and how the murder affected a small Mississippi town. The book is filled with magical realism, and although the subject matter is tragic, Nordan brings a sense of humor to it. The novel provides a glimpse of Southern culture during that time, especially different opinions on race and social class.
This novel is a classic of literature for many reasons, and one of those reasons is how well it illuminates the mentality of the South during the 1910s and 1920s. The story of the downfall of the Compson family dynasty also tackles some of the most common Southern stereotypes: incest, racism, the Southern gentleman and the importance of Christianity.
Set in rural North Carolina, My Drowning is a portrait of a woman’s search for the meaning of a recurring dream about her childhood. Told in a poetic style, it explores themes of abuse, poverty and the loss of innocence. The novel is also somewhat of a mystery in that the main character continually tries to uncover the disturbing events of her past and find meaning within them.
The first in a series of novels, Beulah Land is essentially a soap opera steeped in Southern Culture. It is set on a pre-Civil War plantation and details the lives of both the slaves and their masters as they make choices that will forge their destinies. The events of the novel are so realistic (and graphic at times) that it feels as if it’s a biography. Unlike the previous three novels, it is written in a lighter style, so it would be more suitable for light reading.
Feel free to suggest any more books about the South in the comments below!