There’s no doubt that Mardi Gras is an amazing annual celebration. It’s also what pops into many people’s minds when they regard the diverse and beautiful city of New Orleans. But as its people, art, food, history, music, and literature attest, there is so much more to consider when taking in Louisiana’s largest city. Here, we’ve rounded up seven books that reflect the many facets of New Orleans.
Margaret Wilkerson Sexton’s A Kind of Freedom follows one New Orleans family living in the shadow of Jim Crow. The matriarch, Evelyn, is a woman who grew up in the upper echelon of black society in New Orleans. Because she loves a man on a lower social stratum than she is on, she has to choose between her place in that world and the man she loves. Jackie is Evelyn’s daughter, a single mother who is forced to decide whether or not to take back her drug-addicted husband. And then there is Jackie’s son, T.C. who, even though he has decided to start fresh after a drug charge, is drawn back to the life he tried to leave behind. One part family history and one part social commentary, A Kind of Freedom is a book that reminds readers of the past and current racial history in this country and does so through the lives of one family.
Sheri Fink’s Five Days at Memorial is set in one of New Orleans’ hospitals in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, when both power and back-up generators failed. In this masterful work of narrative nonfiction, Fink examines how caregivers were forced to make difficult choices about which patients would live and which ones would die. Fink spent six years investigating this story. This is by no means an easy book to read, but it is an important one. Hailed as a journalistic masterpiece, Five Days at Memorial is not to be missed.
Hardworking 17-year-old Josie Moraine lives in the French Quarter of New Orleans, but her dream is to attend Smith College, a women’s liberal arts college in Northampton, MA. Her mother, a prostitute, constantly derails Josie’s life, her plans, and her dreams. Worst still, when a customer is murdered at the bookstore where Josie works, it looks like her mother may be involved. Josie becomes caught up in the investigation when her mother skips town and leaves Josie carrying her mob debt. In a starred review of Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys, Kirkus wrote, “With a rich and realistic setting, a compelling and entertaining first-person narration, a colorful cast of memorable characters and an intriguing storyline, this is a surefire winner.”
It’s no secret that we at Bookish love the novels of Beverly Jenkins. Winds of the Storm is no exception. Set in New Orleans during Reconstruction, this historical romance tells the story of Archer Le Veq and Zahra Lafayette. Zahra, a Civil War spy who saved Archer’s life, has a new assignment posing as a New Orleans madam. Everything is going according to plan until Archer Le Veq enters the scene. Zahra tries to hide her true identity from Archer and despite other red flags, she can’t help but be as drawn to him as he is to her. When Archer discovers Zahra is the spy who saved him, will they become allies? This well-researched novel will please lovers of both romance and history.
In this work of nonfiction, author Dave Eggers chronicles what happened to Syrian American Abdulrahman Zeitoun after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. Instead of evacuating New Orleans with his family, Zeitoun stayed behind. In the aftermath of the storm, he spent his time rescuing people and caring for abandoned pets. But Zeitoun’s good work is stopped when he’s suddenly arrested without cause, detained, and denied communication with the outside world. The authorities assume he is a terrorist and strip him of his rights. This book received much praise for its harrowing portrayal of Hurricane Katrina and racism in modern America.
Originally published in 1976, Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire remains a popular favorite among horror fans today. When vampire Louis de Pointe du Lac becomes exhausted with immortality, he agrees to be interviewed in hopes that his sad and horrifying tale will teach the world about the importance of living the life you are given, as opposed to wishing for immortality. His foil throughout the book is Lestat, the vampire who first bit him. This gothic novel finds a perfect setting in the life-giving city of New Orleans.
Shortly after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, Tom Piazza published his masterful nonfiction book Why New Orleans Matters about the city that he loved. In City of Refuge he serves up a devastating novel that tackles the lives of those caught up in the storm and its aftermath. Piazza examines the realities of two New Orleans families—the Williamses, who are black; and the Donaldsons, who are white—in the days leading up to Katrina. Of course, the storm is only the beginning. It’s what comes after the storm that shatters these two families. While the Williams family initially stays put and ends up in the post-storm horror of the Superdome, the Donaldsons evacuate the city and move from place to place in search of shelter.