Saturday, August 29 marks the four-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, and the footage and stories from the storm have not gotten any less poignant and painful to watch, read and hear.
Particularly worth checking out is cartoonist Josh Neufeld’s nonfiction graphic work, A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge, which is released today. Neufeld tracks the lives of seven New Orleans residents affected by the storm: a woman who faces the filth and chaos at the Convention Center after the levees break; a young couple who flee to Houston, but lose meaningful possessions in their home; two friends who attempt to rough out the hurricane in a family-owned convenience store, only to be forced to the roof and nearly eaten alive by mosquitoes (and toxic flood water); a teenager who gets out of New Orleans in time but must move from city to city after the storm and during college; a doctor who refuses to evacuate his historic French Quarter house.
Neufeld, who after the hurricane spent three weeks volunteering with the Red Cross in Biloxi, Mississippi, originally told these stories online at SMITH Magazine. They got such a following that Pantheon Books picked up A.D. for a hardcover release.
Although Neufeld employs sparse language in speech bubbles and captions, reading his book is a fully emotional, multi-dimensional experience. The dialogue captures the initial skepticism, then disbelief, then fear and terror of people reacting to the beloved city under water. The illustrations give full life to the characters and to New Orleans, particularly in the two-page spread where mobs—abandoned by rescue teams—are forced to fend for themselves in panic at the Convention Center.
For a preview of Neufeld’s work, browse the A.D. website at SMITH Magazine. You can download images from the novel or watch a video of how it got made.
Out on August 29 comes Ned Sublette’s The Year Before the Flood: A Story of New Orleans. Sublette is a historian and musician who spent the year before Katrina as a Guggenheim fellow at Tulane. His memoir is divided into three parts – reflections on his early life in Natchitoches, Louisiana (pronounced “Nakatish”); his year in New Orleans in 2004-2005; and his return to the city after the storm.
The memoir is interesting for Sublette’s acknowledgment of his privilege in New Orleans as a white man, and his frank descriptions of the heated, complicated, and notorious race relations in the city.
Also noteworthy are the descriptions of musical genres and traditions in New Orleans—not surprising since Sublette was at Tulane to study the musical connections between Louisiana, Cuba and Saint-Domingue (now Haiti).
In The Year Before the Flood, as Sublette begins to “inhabit [his] Louisiana self,” the reader, too, starts to long for Coco Robicheaux, Fats Domino and the sticky-hot streets of New Orleans.
Other notable books include The Southern Cross, Louisiana-native Skip Horack’s short story collection that chronicles the Gulf Coast pre- and post-Katrina (published last week). Also check out Plenty Enough Suck to Go Around, the autobiography of “This American Life” contributor and New Orleanian Cheryl Wagner (published in May).
Can any BookPage readers recommend other books that have captured the post-Katrina Gulf Coast in a particularly sensitive or moving manner? Or have stories about New Orleans you’d like to share?