I was first introduced to New Orleans when I was very young. My mother used to take me down there for Mardi Gras and then later, Jazz Fest. While we were in the Crescent City, we would spend time in the French Quarter, soaking in all of the history, food, culture, decadence that the city had to offer. Although I no longer go to Mardi Gras with my parents, I still visit the city while I'm attending conventions as an author guest, or just visiting friends for the hell of it. There is no other city like New Orleans and that is the solid truth.
Author Tom Piazza's book, City of Refuge, shows the city in all its glory as we are introduced to Craig Donaldson, a white man from the Midwest who lives in NOLA with his family and SJ, a black man born and raised in NOLA who lives in the Ninth Ward. Both men love the city in their own way and what She has to offer. Everyone who lives in NOLA understands that they live in a "soup bowl" well below sea level. Hurricanes are, unfortunately, a part of their lives - get news of the hurricane, pack up and board up the house, leave for a while, then return and slowly return to a normal life. However, when Hurricane Katrina (or as I've heard NOLA people call her The Bitch) arrives, the two men must make desperate decisions to ensure the safety of their friends and loved ones, not mention themselves. Lives are lost, houses destroyed, and true darkness settles into the city as well as those who left and those who stayed. While Craig and his family escape to Chicago, SJ fights to help those who remained behind while getting his family to safety. When the water finally recedes, choices are made with tears and rage as NOLA struggles to regain Her life.
I'll be blunt - I couldn't put this damn book down. Piazza blew me away with his writing, although it was no surprise to me. I first read his book, Why New Orleans Matters, several years ago and fell in love with not only his words but with NOLA all over again. I had the pleasure of meeting him at Jazz Fest and he was quite a delight. City of Refuge needs to be read by those who have never lived in NOLA and wondered about what really happened during the time of Katrina. The book is also for those who are already in love with NOLA. I will admit that this book brought tears to my eyes many times while reading, mainly because my mind thought about my NOLA friends who dealt with Katrina and what they had to do to evacuate. Even my ex told me his story of how he, his wife at the time, and their child stayed in the Convention Center and the conditions they endured while there. My dad went down there when he worked for State Farm and he told us stories of what he saw. My mom soon joined him and told me of the water lines on the houses and how she only saw two people wandering around as she explored what she could at the time. During one of my recent trips down there, I drove through neighbourhoods that still had the spray paint markers on the houses while the water lines were faint yet still there.
Some claimed the storm to be the work of God trying to flush out the evil in NOLA. Others couldn't feel anything at all except to get through the water. Piazza's novel threw me right in the middle of the water that flooded the streets. I saw the floating bodies, the cars that ended up in people's backyards. I wanted to hug Lucy as she and SJ stayed upstairs while the water continued to rise. I was even with Craig as he sat in the coffee shop in the suburbs of Chicago, looking around at all of the white people in their comfort zones, while he felt anger towards them because they had no idea.
I can't recommend this book enough to people. Please, read City of Refuge.
Tom, I hope we can have a cup of tea sometime. By the way, thanks for mentioning some of my favourite places like Igor's and Rue de la Course on Oak Street - I always go to the coffee shop first then Blue Cypress Books afterwards. It's a ritual of mine.
(upstairs at Rue de la Course)