by Dan Baum
Being less than a week out from Mardi Gras, I thought now would be a good time to post this review about an amazing book I read about New Orleans, while in New Orleans last month.
Dan Baum’s book starts back in the 1960s with the occurrence of Hurricane Betsy, and ends not long after the more recent events of Hurricane Katrina, as told by nine New Orleanians who lived through one or both events.
Ronald Lewis, John/JoAnn Guidos, Anthony Wells, Joyce Montana, Frank Minyard, Billy Grace, Belinda Carr, Wilbert Rawlins Jr and Tim Bruneau are the voices behind this book, a truly beautiful biography of a people and a city unlike any other in the United States of America. Through countless interviews with Baum, these men and women told their stories, candidly and truthfully, to weave an amazing story that really captured your heart and imagination from the start, more so than any work of fiction could have.
The stories in this book were real and raw, and true to New Orleans, touching subjects and walks of life dear to the hearts of many New Orleanians, such as the musicians, the police, the Mardi Gras Indians, the poor single mothers, the working professionals and the criminals. The stories were told without judgement, and it was hard not to form a bond to the characters in those pages.
I found it really hard to read the last chapters of the book, the stories that came from Katrina. I remember, vividly, seeing those images that everyone else saw on the TV when it happened back in 2005 (was it really that long ago??); the crying woman sitting on a roof, holding a baby, water lapping at her feet. The men wheeling shopping trollies through the water, trying to rescue babies on their way. People crammed into the Superdome. The markings on surviving homes, indicating the number of dead found within. Seeing it all on TV, in papers, online, is horrific. Reading about it, however, in the stories told by the survivors, is infinitely more powerful.
It wasn’t all about the hurricanes, though. It was about every day life. About the same struggles people all over the world face. Finding a job, getting through a divorce, trying to live a good life without getting into trouble with the law, doing something meaningful with your life. It might be the same stories all over the world, but the way New Orleans does things in the face of situations like this is different. It’s not something you can explain or describe, there was no one passage or quote that could sum it up, it’s just a beautiful piece of work that you should be reading. Pick up a copy here and enjoy the journey.