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?
I'm a big fan of Sarah Haskins, a comedian who dares to critique the deluge of media targeted at women in a recurring Current TV segment called "Target: Women." Her riffs on the term "cougar" and yogurt commercials rank among my favorite online videos.
Recently, Haskins took on dating guides (aka books that "offer you a system for understanding and categorizing your failures") with predictably hilarious results. Her impression of Clare Staples, the author of Everything I Need to Know About Men I Learned from My Dog, is a highlight—and you'll never squeeze a tomato at the market in the same way.
p.s. If you're still interested in giving a dating advice book a try, check out my tongue-in-cheek look at a few of them from back in 2007. Can you spot the book Sarah featured in her video?
I didn't catch Little Bee pre-pub, but after reading a few pages in an Oxford bookstore I had to buy it. Luckily the UK practice of putting new books out in paperback made this an affordable and travel-friendly option. If you're put off by the back cover copy (which basically says, this book is so good we can't tell you anything about it), read a few pages and see if you're not captivated by the voice of Little Bee, a 16-year-old Nigerian refugee with a surprising connection to Kidman's well-to-do character, Sarah, and her husband. Unlike many over-hyped novels, this one delivers. Little Bee follows Cleave's Incendiary, a novel in the form of a letter to Osama bin Laden in response to an (imaginary) terror attack on a London football stadium. Unfortunately, the pub date set for Incendiary was July 7, 2005, the day of the London tube bombings, and the novel failed to get the promotion it deserved. We're glad to see Little Bee bring Cleave some well-earned success.
Fun fact: in the UK, Little Bee was called The Other Hand and featured a generic "literary fiction" type cover, a big contrast to the fanciful US jacket. Which do you prefer?
Watch an interview with Chris Cleave here.