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Nine Lives: Mystery, Magic, Death, and Life in New Orleans Paperback – February 16, 2010
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The hidden history of a haunted and beloved city told through the intersecting lives of nine remarkable characters.
After Hurricane Katrina, Dan Baum moved to New Orleans to write about the city’s response to the disaster for The New Yorker. He quickly realized that Katrina was not the most interesting thing about New Orleans, not by a long shot. The most interesting question, which struck him as he watched residents struggling to return, was this: Why are New Orleanians—along with people from all over the world who continue to flock there—so devoted to a place that was, even before the storm, the most corrupt, impoverished, and violent corner of America?
Here’s the answer. Nine Lives is a multivoiced biography of this dazzling, surreal, and imperiled city through the lives of nine characters over forty years and bracketed by two epic storms: Hurricane Betsy, which transformed the city in the 1960’s, and Katrina, which nearly destroyed it. 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. But it is New Orleans herself—perpetually whistling past the grave yard—that is the story’s real heroine.
Nine Lives is narrated from the points of view of some of New Orleans’s most charismatic characters, but underpinning the voices of the city is an extraordinary feat of reporting that allows Baum to bring this kaleidoscopic portrait to life with brilliant color and crystalline detail. Readers will find themselves wrapped up in each of these individual dramas and delightfully immersed in the life of one of this country’s last unique places, even as its ultimate devastation looms ever closer. By resurrecting this beautiful and tragic place and portraying the extraordinary lives that could have taken root only there, Nine Lives shows us what was lost in the storm and what remains to be saved.
Amazon Exclusive: Dan Baum on Nine Lives
Hurricane Katrina was the kind of event a reporter waits his entire life to cover. It was especially satisfying doing so for The New Yorker. While newspaper and television reporters chased about feverishly in their attempt to feed the insatiable daily news monster, I enjoyed the time to go deep and peel back the tragedy in all its complexity. I wrote half a dozen short “Talk of the Town” pieces and two long articles over the following year.
Even working for The New Yorker, though, covering Katrina and its aftermath became frustrating. The longer I stayed in New Orleans, the more I understood that huge as Katrina was, it is hardly the most interesting thing about New Orleans. New Orleans is the most unusual place I’ve ever been—complicated, sensual, self-contradictory, hilarious, infuriating—and it was the place itself, not the tragedy that befell it, that I wanted to write about.
So when my wife and I thought about writing a book, it wasn’t a “Katrina book” we had in mind. We finally settled on interweaving the life stories of nine New Orleanians—rich and poor and in between, black and white and in between, male and female and in between. Nine Lives begins in 1965, right after the last time a big part of the city flooded during a hurricane. By this we want to say: New Orleans was there a long time before Hurricane Katrina and it will be there a long time after. Katrina doesn’t show up in Nine Lives until past page 200.
We had two guiding principles: No bad guys, and all happy endings. All nine of these people are, in their own way, heroes. And while we could have ended any of their stories on a down note, we instead end all at a moment of ascendance. There are many ways of looking at New Orleans, but this is how we chose to do so in Nine Lives.
We were careful not to make Nine Lives the kind of "issue" book one must read to understand current events. We want people to read it for the same reason they read The Kite Runner or The Bridges of Madison County—out of love of the characters and a warm, delicious eagerness to see their lives unfold. New Orleans is above all, a fun place, and we tried to make Nine Lives as much fun to read. —Dan Baum--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
I've lived near New Orleans for most of my life. I'm a frequent visitor there, and, like everyone else who comes, I've fallen in love with its decadent grandness, its welcoming, leisurely way of life. All manner of humanity calls New Orleans home, and the city embraces them all. It's a unique place, out of step with the rest of America, and that is exactly why it is so important to save. This has never been truer than now, as the great lady teeters on her knees, still struggling, three years later, to rise from the devastation of Katrina.
Dan Baum, on assignment from The New Yorker after the storm, quickly learned all of these things. Along with his wife Margaret, he eventually moved to New Orleans in order to write a book, one which, using the timeframe between Betsy in 1965 and Katrina in 2005, captures perfectly what it means to love this city.
Baum chose nine people he got to know after the storm, conducting hundreds of hours of interviews, writing the story of the city through their eyes. They are from vastly different ends of the socio-political spectrum, ranging from the widow of a revered Mardi Gras Indian chief to the long-time coroner of Orleans parish, from a transsexual bar owner to a former king of Rex and pillar of the Uptown community. Their stories are unique, yet a common thread runs through them all - the deep, abiding love of this place, of the home New Orleans offers to each.Read more ›
"New Orleanians really want nothing more than for everything to stay the same," Dan Baum writes in his introduction to this compelling oral history of the city's misadventures over the last forty-plus years. As well all know, far from staying the same, everything in New Orleans underwent a seismic change in 2005, when Hurricane Katrina blew in from the Gulf of Mexico and along with the floods that followed, transformed the city's geography in every conceivable way. Its citizens were scattered all over the country, the lower Ninth Ward -- home to some of those whom Baum profiles in his book -- was destroyed.
While Katrina's devastation is the raison d'etre for Baum's book, the events of those horrible days in August and September, 2005 are simply the climax of the lives of the New Orleanians he tells the story through. Or perhaps I should say that his nine characters choose him to tell their tales of the lives they lived in the city that they loved and sometimes hated but couldn't imagine living without. It's the story of a city and of the many ways of life that coexisted within it, of the unique 'live for the day' ethos that prevailed there and its strong sense of community.Read more ›
One way of putting this is that Baum put together in schematic form a kind of Canterbury Tales for New Orleans, but you really can't manage that kind of thing without more first-person narrative. It's the flavor of perspective that really drives the whole.
One more thing. Since Baum was writing nonfiction about living people he would presumably like to remain friends with, there is little that is incisive here. At times you wish you could tell him you're shutting the tape recorder off to get his real opinion on his subjects. I suppose this is why authors turn to fiction - they can put down their real thoughts about people, as long as they change the names. Baum does not appear to be operating with the same freedom.
The overall result is good narrative with surprisingly little color.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Incredible journalism but really just a great story. Nine stories actually! And all together it captures the heart of New Orleans and the amazing people and terrible heartbreak... Read morePublished 28 days ago by H. M. Vehrs
Fascinating novel about real and diverse New Orleanians: Offers a candid connection to what their lives were and are becoming. Read morePublished 1 month ago by A. Lynn
I chose this for my book group. Everyone enjoyed it, especially for non-fiction. We had some good conversation. Read morePublished 1 month ago by dws
Following the individuals stories as shared with Mr. Baum brings a whole new perspective to the events just prior to, through the storm, and the aftermath of Katrina. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Just <3 shoes
Fantastic book for anyone who has lived in, visited, or wants to visit NOLA. Excellent story, excellent telling of history, excellent diversity in his choice of characters. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Taylor Hamilton
I enjoyed the look at the lives of ordinary (for the most part) New Orleanians during the interdiluvian period. Read morePublished 3 months ago by James E. Swinnen
Really moving and well written. I enjoyed seeing how the people's lives connected, and how they survived literal and figurative storms. Read morePublished 3 months ago by Miz_Jen
One of my favorite reads. The characters were so lifelike, some bigger than life and I miss them terribly.Published 6 months ago by K. S. Rossman
It brought back memories of my stay in New Oreans and also expressed the horror what was done to the poor after Katrina.Published 6 months ago by Ginger Lily