Katrina, Katrina…*

27 Aug

From my vantage point up here in tight-sphincteral New England, New Orleans has always looked like the most interesting city in the USA. Which is why the great natural(and then some) disaster known, like a super model, as Katrina, is exponentially fascinating. Firstly, because of the callous disregard exhibited by a regime busy embroiling this country in a disastrous military adventure as effects of Katrina unfolded and then allowing incompetence (remember FEMA head ‘Brownie’?) and mean-spiritedness to triumph. As the 10th anniversary of Katrina draws nigh let’s revisit and reflect.

There is a rich bibliography of fiction connected to the Big Easy (Robert Stone’s Hall of Mirrors comes to mind) and there have been some creditable recent additions

City of Refuge byTom Piazza

City of Refuge byTom Piazza

City of Refuge byTom Piazza

In City of Refuge, a heart-wrenching novel from Tom Piazza, the author of the award-winning Why New Orleans Matters, two New Orleans families—one black and one white—confront Hurricane Katrina, a storm that will change the course of their lives. Reaching across America—from the neighborhoods ofNew Orleans to Texas, Chicago, and elsewhere—City of Refuge explores this turning point in American culture, one whose reverberations are only beginning to be underst

Secessia  by Kent Wascom

Secessia by Kent Wascom

Secessia by Kent Wascom

New Orleans, May 1862. The largest city in the ill-starred confederacy has fallen to Union troops under the soon-to-be-infamous General Benjamin “the Beast” Butler. The city is rife with madness and rage. When twelve-year-old Joseph Woolsack disappears from his home, he draws into the unrest his mother, Elise, a mixed-race woman passing for white, and his father, Angel, whose long and wicked life is drawing to a close. What follows forces mother and son into a dark new world: Joseph must come to grips with his father’s legacy of violence and his growing sentiment for Cuban exile Marina Fandal, the only survivor of a shipwreck that claimed the lives of her parents. Elise must struggle to maintain a hold on her sanity, her son and her own precarious station, but is threatened by the resurgence of a troubling figure from her past, Dr. Emile Sabatier, a fanatical physician who adores disease and is deeply mired in the conspiracy and intrigue surrounding the occupation of the city. Their paths all intersect with General Benjamin Butler of Massachusetts, a man who history will call a beast, but whose avarice and brutal acumen are ideally suited to the task of governing an “ungovernable city.” Alternating between the perspectives of the five characters of Elise, Dr. Sabatier, Joseph, Marina, and Butler, Secessia weaves a tapestry of ravenous greed and malformed love, of slavery and desperation, set within the baroque melting-pot that is New Orleans. A Gothic tableaux vivant of epic scope and intimate horror, Secessia is the netherworld reflection of the conflict between north and south.

The Lower Quarter by Elise Blackwell

The Lower Quarter by Elise Blackwell

The Lower Quarter by Elise Blackwell

A man murdered during Katrina in a hotel room two blocks from her art-restoration studio was closely tied to a part of Johanna’s past that she would like kept secret. But missing from the crime scene is a valuable artwork painted in 1926 by a renowned Belgian artist that might bring it all back.An acquaintance, Clay Fontenot, who has enabled a wide variety of personal violations in his life, some of which he has enjoyed, is the scion of a powerful New Orleans family.And Marion is an artist and masseuse from the Quarter who has returned after Katrina to rebuild her life.When Eli, a convicted art thief, is sent to find the missing painting, all of their stories weave together in the slightly deranged halls of the Quarter.

 A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld

A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld

A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld

A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge is a portrait of a city under siege.Cartoonist Josh Neufeld depicts seven extraordinary true stories of survival in the days leading up to and following Hurricane Katrina. Here we meet Denise, a counselor and social worker, and a sixth-generation New Orleanian; “The Doctor,” a proud fixture of the French Quarter; Abbas and Darnell, two friends who face the storm from Abbas’ s family-run market; Kwame, a pastor’s son just entering his senior year of high school; and the young couple Leo and Michelle, who both grew up in the city. Each is forced to confront the same wrenching decision–whether to stay or to flee. … A.D. presents a city in chaos and shines a bright, profoundly human light on the tragedies and triumphs that took place within it.

ANOTHER KIND OF HURRICANE By Tamara Ellis Smith

ANOTHER KIND OF HURRICANE By Tamara Ellis Smith

ANOTHER KIND OF HURRICANE By Tamara Ellis Smith

…two very different characters—a black boy who loses his home in Hurricane Katrina and a white boy in Vermont who loses his best friend in a tragic accident—come together to find healing. A hurricane, a tragic death, two boys, one marble. How they intertwine is at the heart of this beautiful, poignant book. When ten-year-old Zavion loses his home in Hurricane Katrina, he and his father are forced to flee to Baton Rouge. And when Henry, a ten-year-old boy in northern Vermont, tragically loses his best friend, Wayne, he flees to ravaged New Orleans to help with hurricane relief efforts—and to search for a marble that was in the pocket of a pair of jeans donated to the Red Cross.

Drowned City by Don Brown

Drowned City by Don Brown

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans

… Hurricane Katrina’s monstrous winds and surging water overwhelmed the protective levees around low-lying New Orleans, Louisiana. Eighty percent of the city flooded, in some places under twenty feet of water. Property damages across the Gulf Coast topped $100 billion. One thousand eight hundred and thirty-three people lost their lives. The riveting tale of this historic storm and the drowning of an American city is one of selflessness, heroism, and courage—and also of incompetence, racism, and criminality.Don Brown’s kinetic art and as-it-happens narrative capture both the tragedy and triumph of one of the worst natural disasters in American history. A portion of the proceeds from this book has been donated to Habitat for Humanity New Orleans.

Why New Orleans Matters  by Tom Piazza

Why New Orleans Matters
by Tom Piazza

Why New Orleans Matters Paperback by Tom Piazza (

In the aftermath of Katrina and the disaster that followed, promises were made, forgotten, and renewed. Now what will become of New Orleans in the years ahead? What do this proud, battered city and its people mean to America and the world? Tom Piazza illuminates the storied culture and uncertain future of this great and neglected American metropolis by evoking the sensuous rapture of the city that gave us jazz music and Creole cooking; examining its deep undercurrents of corruption, racism, and injustice; and explaining how its people endure and transcend those conditions. And, perhaps most important, he asks us all to consider the spirit of this place and all the things it has shared with the world: its grace and beauty, resilience and soul.

Dr John aka mac Rebeneck makes New Orleans musical gumbo

The Katrina Decade: Images of an Altered City by  David G. Spielman

The Katrina Decade: Images of an Altered City by
David G. Spielman

The Katrina Decade: Images of an Altered City by David G. Spielman

In the 10 years since, David G. Spielman embraced the traditions of photographers from the Works Progress Administration and Farm Security Administration and documented subtle changes throughout his beloved city.’New Orleans has a melancholy beauty that defies logic and transcends time,’says Spielman. Vines creep up the side of a home that could be vacant or occupied. Graffiti mars or beautifies? the walls of an abandoned building. Readers must draw their own conclusions from his haunting black-and-white images.

When Hurricane Katrina approached New Orleans, Spielman decided to stay and weather the storm, assisting his Uptown neighbors, the sisters of the order of Poor Clare. Katrina passed, and as the flood waters filled the city, the scope of the devastation only gradually dawned on Spielman, who was cut off from outside communication. Faced with the greatest personal and professional challenge of his life, he determined to document the scene unfolding around him. He managed to secure a generator to power his laptop computer, and in the days, weeks, and months after August 29, 2005, he transmitted emails to hundreds of friends and clients and cautiously traversed the city taking photographs. In Katrinaville Chronicles: Images and Observations from a New Orleans Photographer Spielman’s gathered images and observations, relating his unique perspective on and experience of a historic catastrophe. He never expected his emails to survive beyond the day he sent them. But his descriptions of what he was seeing, hearing, smelling, thinking, feeling, and fearing in post Katrina New Orleans were forwarded again and again, even around the globe. They reveal the best and worst in Spielman: a Samaritan who becomes caretaker of the sisters’ monastery, as well as a stressed gent who frets about the lack of starched shirts and a decent cup of coffee. He rants about political leaders and voices a deep concern for his city’s future. He tells of feeling overwhelmed, at a loss for words, unable to capture on film the individual tragedies manifested in home after destroyed home, many marked by death. His arresting black and white photographs record the details of the disaster on both a grand and an intimate scale, at times recalling works by Walker Evans, Robert Frank, and Henri Cartier-Bresson. What emerges above all is Spielman’s buoyant spirit. Living without electricity or running water and existing on peanut butter sandwiches, he nonetheless is able to appreciate the complete quiet and unadulterated starlight in a surreal city without power. He encourages his fellow citizens to see Katrina as an opportunity for improving upon the past and making a better tomorrow.

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital  by Sheri Fink

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink

Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink

Five Days at Memorial,the culmination of six years of reporting, is Sheri Fink’s landmark investigation of patient deaths at a New Orleans hospital ravaged by Hurricane Katrina – and her portrayal of the quest for truth and justice.Physician and reporter Sheri Fink reconstructs 5 days at Memorial Medical Center and draws the reader into the lives of those who struggled mightily to survive and to maintain life amid chaos.fter Katrina struck and the floodwaters rose, the power failed, and the heat climbed, exhausted caregivers chose to designate certain patients last for rescue. Months later, several health professionals faced criminal allegations that they deliberately injected numerous patients with drugs to hasten their deaths. Fink exposes the hidden dilemmas of end-of-life care and reveals just how ill-prepared we are in America for the impact of large-scale disasters—and how we can do better.

Here’s a sample of Spike Lee’s (wacked)four part documentary When The Levees Broke:

 Katrina: After the Flood  by Gary Rivlin

Katrina: After the Flood by Gary Rivlin

Katrina: After the Flood by Gary Rivlin (

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina made landfall in southeast Louisiana—on August 29, 2005—journalist Gary Rivlin traces the storm’s immediate damage, the city of New Orleans’s efforts to rebuild itself, and the storm’s lasting affects not just on the city’s geography and infrastructure—but on the psychic, racial, and social fabric of one of this nation’s great cities.Much of New Orleans still sat under water the first time Gary Rivlin glimpsed the city after Hurricane Katrina. Then a staff reporter for The New York Times, he was heading into the city to survey the damage. The Interstate was eerily empty. Soldiers in uniform and armed with assault rifles stopped him. Water reached the eaves of houses for as far as the eye could see.Four out of every five houses—eighty percent of the city’s housing stock—had been flooded. Around that same proportion of schools and businesses were wrecked. The weight of all that water on the streets cracked gas and water and sewer pipes all around town and the deluge had drowned almost every power substation and rendered unusable most of the city’s water and sewer system.
People living in flooded areas of the city could not be expected to pay their property taxes for the foreseeable future. Nor would all those boarded-up businesses—21,000 of the city’s 22,000 businesses were still shuttered six months after the storm—be contributing their share of sales taxes and other fees to the city’s coffers. Six weeks after the storm, the city laid off half its workforce—precisely when so many people were turning to its government for help. Meanwhile, cynics both in and out of the Beltway were questioning the use of taxpayer dollars to rebuild a city that sat mostly below sea level. How could the city possibly come back?
Katrina traces the stories of New Orleanians of all stripes—politicians and business owners, teachers and bus drivers, poor and wealthy, black and white—as they confront the aftermath of one of the great tragedies of our age and reconstruct, change, and in some cases abandon a city that’s the soul of this nation.

We’re Still Here Ya Bastards by Roberta Brandes Gratz

We’re Still Here Ya Bastards by Roberta Brandes Gratz

We’re Still Here Ya Bastards by Roberta Brandes Gratz

Gratz presents a panoramic look at New Orleans’s revival in the years following the hurricane.sharing the stories of people who returned to their homes and have taken the rebuilding of their city into their own hands. It shows how the city—from the Lower Ninth Ward to the storied French Quarter to Bayou Bienvenue—is recovering despite flawed governmental policies that promote disaster capitalism rather than the public good. While tracing positive trends, Gratz also investigates the most fiercely debated issues and challenges facing the city: a violent and corrupt prison system, the tragic closing of Charity Hospital, the future of public education, and the rise of gentrification.

Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas  by Rebecca Solnit,  Rebecca Snedeker

Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas by Rebecca Solnit, Rebecca Snedeker

Unfathomable City: A New Orleans Atlas by Rebecca Solnit, Rebecca Snedeker

This book is a reinvention of the traditional atlas, one that provides a vivid, complex look at the multi-faceted nature of New Orleans, a city replete with contradictions. More than twenty essays assemble a chorus of vibrant voices, including geographers, scholars of sugar and bananas, the city’s remarkable musicians, prison activists, environmentalists, Arab and Native voices, and local experts, as well as the coauthors’ compelling contributions. Featuring 22 full-color two-page-spread maps, Unfathomable City plumbs the depths of this major tourist destination, pivotal scene of American history and culture and, most recently, site of monumental disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill. The innovative maps’ precision and specificity shift our notions of the Mississippi, the Caribbean, Mardi Gras, jazz, soils and trees, generational roots, and many other subjects, and expand our ideas of how any city is imagined and experienced. Together with the inspired texts, they show New Orleans as both an imperiled city—by erosion, crime, corruption, and sea level rise—and an ageless city that lives in music as a form of cultural resistance. Compact, lively, and completely original, Unfathomable City takes readers on a tour that will forever change the way they think about place.

A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster by Rebecca Solnit

A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster by Rebecca Solnit

A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster by Rebecca Solnit

Natural and man-made disasters can be utopias that showcase human solidarity and point the way to a freer society, according this stimulating contrarian study. Solnit reproves civil defense planners, media alarmists and Hollywood directors who insist that disasters produce terrified mobs prone to looting, murder and cannibalism unless controlled by armed force and government expertise. Surveying disasters from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake to 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, she shows that the typical response to calamity is spontaneous altruism, self-organization and mutual aid, with neighbors and strangers calmly rescuing, feeding and housing each other. Indeed, the main problem in such emergencies, she contends, is the elite panic of officials who clamp down with National Guardsmen and stifling regulations. Solnit makes a compelling—and timely—case for the ability of ordinary people to collectively surmount the direst of challenges

And of course David Simon’s love song to New Orleans, Treme.

* Due to lack of time (or as one friend insists, indolence)book descriptions are taken from publishers websites.

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2 Responses to “Katrina, Katrina…*”

  1. hdinin August 27, 2015 at 1:50 pm #

    Iz—how is it the book publishers find the time to write the book descriptions you find it necessary simply to, as we say in the newsroom (where real journalism used to occur), rip and paste, because you are bereft of the time to do the same, i.e., write them, yourself, accompanied no doubt by the painful task of actually articulating in a cohesive and well-rendered way your insightful analysis and conclusion thereof.

    Instead this mishmash of manufactured canned cant, plus the pitifully brief (and often ill-chosen) snippets of what is supposed to be representative prose—which, if it is, is repeatedly more often than not argument not to be bother wasting another 90 seconds reading a word further in the published text…

    Indolence doesn’t begin to describe, excuse, or exculpate whatever the modus operandi you are operating here.

    Take a look at it. Snippets of inadequate reductive expository summation of plot, with some glittering generalities of pseudo description about the quality of the writing, which you embellish with a paragraph or two of representative prose, seeming taken in a disorienting way at least somewhat out of context. And usually leaving me wondering about what goes on in your head when you read this stuff and respond so approbatively…

    Do you have a block against writing sustained, mindful, analytical and expository prose that expresses a nuanced point of view that can’t be summed up in two blurb-like sentences? Just wondering.

    I always come back to the same conclusion. Must be what therapists are always loathe to call laziness… Or maybe it’s just—to be a little analytical here on the strength of not much at all but this persistent habitual behavior of yours, which you label literary journalism, of what is called, I think, reaction formation.

    • robertbirnbaum August 27, 2015 at 2:17 pm #

      Like I said, you were born in the wrong century…

      Actually, if you think the snippets are bad you should read them before I tidy them up.

      And besides methinks they are serviceable descriptions of the books etc

      The reality is that I allow myself a time limit on creating the items for Our Man in Boston as I have many more miles to travel , in trying to maintain my impecunious lifestyle ,before I can lay my weary head to rest…

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