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The Sound of Building Coffins Hardcover – March 1, 2009

4.4 out of 5 stars 51 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This ambitious, vivid novel by writer, New Orleans resident and jazz record shop owner Maistros starts out in the Big Easy of 1891. Noonday Morningstar, an African-American Baptist preacher, is summoned to pray over a dying one-year-old boy whose supposed illness is actually demonic possession. Aided by Dr. Jack, an abortionist and witch doctor; Beauregard Church, a veteran prison guard; and Buddy Bolden, a cornet player specializing in the new jazz sound, Noonday performs a voodoo exorcism. Fifteen years later, Noonday is dead, and his youngest son, the diminutive and gifted Typhus, has developed an odd love for Lily, a girl he knows only through a photograph. Following Typhus and those connected to the exorcism through New Orleans vibrant underbelly, Maistros develops a rich, dangerous world of musicians, mob justice and magic. Stylistic flourishes, lush descriptions (especially of the voodoo practices), and dialect-heavy narration sometimes jar the storys flow, but the plots insistent pace builds to a satisfying though familiar storm-buffeted climax. (Feb.)
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Review

Louis Maistros has written a lyrical, complex, and brave novel that takes enormous risks and pulls them all off. He is a writer to watch and keep reading, a writer to cherish. --Peter Straub

One has to write with considerable authenticity to pull off a story steeped in magic and swamp water that examines race and class, death and rebirth, Haitian voodoo, and the beginnings of jazz in 1891 New Orleans. Maistros's gritty debut novel follows the interconnected lives of the Morningstar siblings--all lovingly named by their father after disease-- as they wrestle with a powerful demon, con outsiders, kill and die, die and are reborn. The plot is complex and magical, grounded in the history of the city, without being overly sentimental. There is a comfort with death as a part of life in this work that reveals deep feeling for the city and its past. Of course, every novel about New Orleans must have a good hurricane. Like the one in Zora Neale Hurston's classic Their Eyes Were Watching God, this hurricane destroys the city while making hope possible. Highly recommended for all fiction collections, especially where there is an interest in jazz. --Library Journal

The Society of North American Magic Realists welcomes its newest, most dazzling member, Louis Maistros. His debut novel is a thing of wonder, unlike anything in our literature. It startles. It stuns. It stupefies. No novel since Confederacy of Dunces has done such justice to New Orleans. If Franz Kafka had been able to write like Peter Straub, this might have been the result. --Donald Harrington, Winner of the Robert Penn Warren Award and the Oxford-American Lifetime Achievement Award
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 360 pages
  • Publisher: The Toby Press; First Edition edition (March 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1592642551
  • ISBN-13: 978-1592642557
  • Product Dimensions: 8.7 x 5.9 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,217,543 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Luan Gaines HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on February 26, 2009
Format: Hardcover
From the beginning of this unusual novel set in 1891 New Orleans, when a demon is cast out from a one-year-old child, to the massive destruction of a hurricane in 1906, Maistros leads his characters through a merry chase between the real and the unknown in the murky world of the dead. From the moment a number of Sicilian prisoners are lynched by an angry mob and a prison guard takes home a grisly souvenir, to the exorcism of evil from the baby son of one of the Sicilians, it is clear that this novel will not be bound by ordinary constraints, that the world of the spirit will be just as critical to this tale as what can be viewed by the naked eye. From an ancient voudou mambo to Coco Robicheaux, who steals the souls of naughty children, the novel is filled with extraordinary people, equally righteous, well-meaning and fatally flawed. On the night of the exorcism, seven enter the house where the baby moves with otherworldly energy; not all will live through the experience.

Poverty is familiar to Noonday Morningstar, a Baptist minister and his family- Typhus, Cholera, Diphtheria, Malaria and Dropsy- and there is something to be said for the power of naming. The unseen world is barely removed from such an existence: Typhus rebirths lost babies: his father hears God's clear commands; Diphtheria and Malaria tend to the physical needs of men in sporting houses, flirting with death. But what begins that night echoes through the years, as the characters struggle with their lives and choices, a ragged, malevolent spirit raising havoc once called from the infant. As a young man, Buddy Bolden, the great jazz innovator, plays his horn beside the baby's crib. Buddy's tortured career will be touched by genius and depravity, by secrets and grace. And Dr.
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Louis Maistros has written a whale of a tale with "The Sound of Building Coffins." Amazingly, it is his debut novel. This is a macabre masterpiece of magical realism, filled with the author's obvious love for New Orleans, where he makes his home in the 8th Ward neighborhood. His deep feelings for the Mighty Mississippi, whose mouth is just a bit downstream of the Mardi Gras City, are also evident.

The novel opens in 1891, a period near the end of the Creole-age with its wonderful music, a combination of elements of West African work songs, slave spirituals, minstrel shows, and rural blues expression with European brass band instruments. A recurrent theme throughout this novel is death and rebirth. Now, in its death throes, this music gives birth to her natural heir - jazz and Ragtime. Music plays such an important role here - from the seductive sound of Buddy Bolden's cornet, (blasting out with the new jazz sound), to the strains of lapping river water, to the buzz of the locals, whispering their deepest secrets, to the roaring wind and waves of an enormous hurricane.

The exotic and colorful cast of characters is large and lavish. Nine year-old Typhus Morningstar is the first person we meet. We find the young boy fulfilling his calling, tenderly rebirthing aborted fetuses in the waters of the Mississippi River under the light of the half-moon. He is almost always watched over by Mr. Marcus Nobody Special, who fishes nightly, looking for a particularly special catfish which he has yet to catch. All other fish are thrown back into the water, allowed to live and swim on.

Typhus' father is an African American Baptist minister, Rev. Noonday Morningstar, who named his children for diseases: Malaria, Cholera, Diphtheria, Dropsy and Typhus.
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Format: Hardcover
No city has a more individual culture than New Orleans, Louisiana. "The Sound of Building Coffins" is a magnificent novel from author Louis Maistros, as he crafts a novel that is distinctly New Orleans in origin. The story is of an infant supposedly possessed by the devil, and the community around him doing everything they can to save the child. Written in a fine lyrical style, "The Sound of Building Coffins" is a unique novel.
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Format: Hardcover
The Sound of Building Coffins easily ranks as one of my favorite books. Maistros blends magical realism with the harrowing history of New Orleans, displaying a love affair the writer obviously has with the city.

One of the chapters reads like a comforting letter to the residents of post-Katrina New Orleans and yet is still relevent to the story. It shows that the people have dealt with apocryphal hurricanes before and instead of changing the core of New Orleans it brings about a new era for its residents while still maintaining a deeply rooted heritage that has made the city one of the most unique and desirable places to visit in the States. Maistros understands New Orleans and articulately translates the language of its soul. The book distinguishes itself apart from anything else I've read about the Crescent City.

But back to the story: Although the book's subject is very different from 100 Years of Solitude, a fan of the book can easily pick up The Sound of Building Coffins and have a simliar bewitching feeling. Just as in 100 Years of Solitude, right after I finished Maistros' book, I began to read it again from the beginning. The book weaves together the different and complicated and beautiful elements of New Orleans with mysticism. The sentences are succinct, finely crafted, and effective with the same poetic intent of any of Marquez's best work. As far as I know this is Maistros' debut and it's equivelant of a Van Halen or Led Zeppelin debut that leaves the audience with a WTF reaction over and over. I highly, highly recommend this book and it is one that I will buy for friends and family as gifts whether they like it or not. I'm sure they'll be posting on Amazon about how this book touched them in a personal way.
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