Ages ago I did a blog entry on the podcast of Harry Shearer’s Le Show. At the time, I was reading Nine Lives, which was a book that Harry Shearer had recommended. He interviewed Dan Baum, and I became extremely interested in reading this book. It was not available in Australia, so my wonderful mother ordered it online and it was a birthday present. And what a gift!
This is such a wonderful book. Dan Baum went to New Orleans to report on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the failure of the levies. (If you want to know more about that, Harry Shearer has a documentary called The Big Uneasy. I haven’t seen it yet, but must try to watch it soon. There is also the fabulous HBO show Treme, obviously this book and heaps of other stuff) There, Baum was intrigued by New Orleans itself; not just the aftermath of this disaster, but the people and everything about it. In his many, many hours of interviewing people, he found nine that he chose to write about.
The book starts in 1965. It jumps from time to time, and between these nine marvellous and inspiring characters. It talks about their youth, growing up, the changes in New Orleans. What I knew about New Orleans before this book was that it is in the South and is hot and sultry, Mardi Gras and it has hot and sultry music – a music scene like nowhere else in the world. I reckon that I knew more than that, but the main thing was the music. What I didn’t know was that it was seen as a failing city, with huge drug and guns problems and a notoriously corrupt police. I didn’t know that there are African Americans who dress as Indian Chiefs and parade in an informal manner to show respect to the Native American tribes who helped the slaves. I didn’t know about the politics of Mardi Gras and I didn’t know of so many other things.
The characters of the book are hugely varied; a band leader who takes students from the roughest parts of town, some with no real parental guide, and gives them pride and dignity; a transsexual working toward her operation with a bar that she kept open throughout the flood despite intense pressure to close; a mother who desperately struggles to lift herself and her family above the poverty she grew up in; and so many more. I don’t want to spoil it for you. If you are looking for a good read that will tug at your heartstrings, make you want to fight the injustices of the world and give you a damned good laugh along the way, read Nine Lives.