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A Region Not Home: Reflections from Exile.

A Region Not Home: Reflections from Exile by lames Alan McPherson Simon & Schuster, February 2000, $24.00, ISBN 0-684-83464-2

James Alan McPherson, the celebrated essayist, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning story collection Elbow Room, has written a collection of thoughtful essays on the theme of Americanness in this follow-up to his 1998 work Crabcakes.

The concept of democracy is for McPherson a home base, a cultural springboard to other areas, many of them moral and philosophical. This book contains the thoughts of a man secure enough in his identity as an American to go other places, physical and intellectual. After leaving his native Georgia as a young man, McPherson led a peripatetic life until, as he reveals in the essay "Junior and John Doe," he "abandoned some of his family, and many of my oldest black friends, and accepted a condition of internal exile in a small, isolated town in Iowa [where he teaches] as the only way of maintaining myself whole."

That essay addresses what McPherson sees as the need of black Americans to relocate what is best in their own culture, rather than continuing to blindly embrace middle-class values and materialism. Interestingly, E. Franklin Frazier made a nearly identical charge in Black Bourgeoisie. The pieces in this book urge all Americans to look to the best in themselves.

McPherson's writings can leave us wondering, "What did he say?" This may seem at first to be a fault; it is not. Rather some of his essays call for (and reward) a second reading, or at least a period of reflection after the first. Hitching a ride with McPherson is not so much about reaching a destination as about traveling around in paths of wildly varying circumference, glimpsing it from many different and illuminating angles, until the point when, feeling as if we are still en route, we find that we have arrived.

McPherson emerges as a slightly odd man (his self-isolation in Iowa, for example, is never made to seem less than extreme), but also as a warm, thoughtful, principled and generous one. Unlike the equally erudite Stanley Crouch, and any number of other contemporary writers, McPherson does not throw punches from the page. Instead, he reasons--slowly, creatively and well. His approach puts him out of step with the shouting match that is much of today's culture, which is why A Region Not Home won't approach anything like bestsellerdom--and precisely why it should.

Cliff Thompson is a freelance writer living in New York City
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Thompson, Cliff
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 2000
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