By Curtis Wilkie
(Simon & Schuster)
Why am I so excited about Curtis Wilkie's book, Dixie: A Personal Odyssey Through Events That Shaped the Modern South? Because the Southern United States is part of the very same country that I live in, yet I feel like I know nothing about it, except from what I have gleaned from stale history books and Hollywood movies. Wilkie's book, published in 2001 and recently released in paperback, guides the reader through what I have always considered a no man's land, with the authentic insight and voice of a modern Southerner looking back on his history. It's an intimate, elegant and exciting look at our brothers and sisters to the South, through the eyes of one their own.
Wilkie, who graduated with a degree in journalism from the University of Mississippi, has held various reporting jobs, first with the Clarion-Ledger and finally with the Boston Globe. Through his various assignments, we are privy to many of the events and people that make up the collective history of the past fifty years in the south. But it's when Wilkie steps out of the South and moves to Boston and then the Middle East that the true reflection of what it means to be Southern comes full circle for the author. His comparisons of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to that of the civil rights struggle are compelling.
One of the most provocative sections is his coverage of Jimmy Carter's candidacy and presidency, and his eventual failure to recapture the office for a second term. With all the hoo-ha over JC the past couple months, including his Noble Peace Prize, you'd think Christ had come back as a Southern Democrat. But Wilkie's portrait of President Carter is anything but Christ-like. With statements such as, "behind that big smile... lay a cold and calculating mind," it is evident that Wilkie got to know a man that Carter himself still hopes to hide.
So if you were a little lost during the recent Trent Lott debacle and didn't even know that Strom Thurmond ever ran for president, then Dixie is an indispensable tool in cracking the South wide open. BRIAN BRAIT