Born in the USA by Paul Theroux

Paul Theroux

Born in the USA


Nothing in the books I knew at the time reflected what I saw and felt growing up in the 1950s and early 1960s in the United States. This was before the stereotypical 1960s began in earnest, around 1963, with the Beatles and Dylan, organised protest and the demands for radical change. Until then it was an era of confusion and weirdness, unwritten about, as far as I could tell.

I was a mediocre student, a loose fit in a big unruly family, frustrated and befuddled, feeling overlooked, if not buried alive. When I sought advice about my prospects from Miss Dole, the ‘guidance counselor’ at my high school, she shrieked, ‘You’re not going to college – you’ll never get in! You’re not going anywhere!’ Dressed in a blouse of red polka dots, her grey hair in a bun, she had the thin, hysterical face of a scold, the eye-distorting lenses in her cat-eye frames calling to mind an interrogator.

Despite her, I remained a committed fantasist. My refuge was reading and, covertly, I had begun to write. I had no definite subjects but I was starting to see possibilities. Such mental activity, a bit like idle play, is seldom remarked upon, but it is crucial to a beginner

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