Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans by Dan Baum (February 10, 2009, Spiegel & Grau), 319 pages
Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans tells the story of New Orleans through the stories of nine people over 40 years, bracketed by two hurricanes — from 1965’s Betsy to 2005’s Katrina.
From the cover: “These nine lives are windows into every strata of one of the most complex and fascinating cities in the world. From outsider artists and Mardi Gras Kings to jazz-playing coroners and transsexual barkeeps, these lives are possible only in New Orleans, but the city that nurtures them is also, from the beginning, a city haunted by the possibility of disaster. All their stories converge in the storm, where some characters rise to acts of heroism and others sink to the bottom.”
I was drawn into this book before I reached the numbered pages. The brief About This Book section was enough. Some of the characters’ lives touch, but for the most part they remain separate. I quite enjoyed the reading until the narrative reached August 2005. Then, I was anxious. Sad. The book’s hooks were in me, though. Which felt kind of heart-wrenching. Nine Lives is not nearly so sad as it could be. It’s not as sad as I expected it to be. These stories are hopeful. I love how the vibrant New Orleans culture shines on these pages.
Throughout, I enjoyed Baum’s writing. The lives of the nine come off the page, candid, alive.
I visited New Orleans in 1998, and I was entranced.
One wish Nine Lives left unfulfilled: A map of the city and its parishes and wards.
Other reviews of this book:
• The Persistence of Vision
(Let me know if I missed yours.)
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