Sunday, September 4, 2011

Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans by Dan Baum

Nine Lives is a multi-voiced biography of the fascinating city of New Orleans told through the voices of nine unforgettable people, from different walks of life, bracketed by two epic storms: Hurricane Betsy, which hit in the 1960's and changed the city, and Hurricane Katrina, which nearly destroyed it.

A quick run down of the characters:

Ronald Lewis: a black man that lives in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, where he was born and raised, that doesn't want to see his ward disappear due to the storms, the kids taking to the streets to live lives he never even imagined when he was their age, and the politicians who want the ward to disappear.

John Guidos: a white man who loses his family's business due to bad investments and continually struggles with his sexuality and gender while try to live a "normal life" with his wife and children.

Anthony Lewis: a black man from California who always tried to get back to the New Orleans he visited as a child, just to get there and see it destroyed.

Joyce Montana: a black woman who is the wife of the famous Tootie Montana, a man who lead the change of the Mardi Gras Indians from fighting every year, to a more peaceful resolution of seeing who could have the best Indian costume.

Frank Minyard: a white doctor, prone to bouts of depression, who sees change is needed in 1960's New Orleans, and goes after it by running for city coroner. He survives both hurricanes to help the city get back on it's feet.

Billy Grace: the current Rex when Katrina hits, Billy tries to get his rich friends to help rebuild the city but it seems everyone likes to profess their love for the city but don't want to touch their wallets.

Belinda Carr: a black woman who has dreamed of a Walton life with a white picket fence since she was a young girl, and never gives up the dream that she will eventually get there no matter what life hands her.

Wilbert Rawlins Jr.: a high school band teacher, he takes his job seriously and changes the lives of every student he comes across, no matter how down and out they are or how rough a life they are living.

Tim Bruneau: a white man who becomes a New Orleans police officer after the major change in the way the department is run, he takes his job in this city seriously, until Katrina hits and changes everything he ever thought and believed to be true.

This is by far the best book I have read in the past 5 years. Although nonfiction, it reads like a novel. Usually in a book like this there are 1 or 2 people I don't really care about and have to force myself to read their sections but not the case in Nine Lives. I loved every one of people as if we were friends. I truly, honestly did not want this amazing book to end. Its fascinating and heartbreaking, at times making me laugh, shake my head in shock and fill with tears. New Orleans is a city that has been through hell, twice, and it's people have never lost their spirit or their love for their city. I think a big theme is race, but it isn't told on a way that says this way is right and that way is wrong. I can't even give this book justice in a review. I just recommend everyone to read it and see if you don't fall in love with The Big Easy and it's amazing and fascinating cast of characters.

5 stars

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