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Atchafalaya Houseboat: My Years in the Louisiana Swamp Hardcover – April 24, 2006

4.7 out of 5 stars 46 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In the late 1970s, Roland and Calvin Voisin made a decision to live a pleasantly isolated life: they constructed a houseboat in Louisiana's Atchafalaya River Basin Swamp, caught their own food and made money by trading and welding. Roland and Voisin revel in their isolation, and the joy Roland takes in retelling her experiences is evident on every page. The book is enhanced by nature photographer C.C. Lockwood's photographs, which depict the couple going about their daily houseboat business (and were published in National Geographic). Roland's writing, most of which was done at the time, is highly accessible if at times disjointed. It's hard to discern an exact sequence of events, and certain things seem to happen out of nowhere, like when Roland leaves Voisin for another man, whom she marries. The end of the book, in which Roland discusses her fascination with organic gardening pioneer Robert Rodale and sketches her life today, makes for a less than satisfying ending to an otherwise intriguing look at a disappearing way of life. Photos.
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About the Author

Gwen Roland, former editor for the Southern Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, continues to write about agriculture and self-sufficient lifestyles from her homestead in Georgia.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: LSU Press (April 24, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807130893
  • ISBN-13: 978-3540037002
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 7.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (46 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #82,510 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Lynn Bliss on June 14, 2006
Format: Hardcover
It's hard to go wrong with this subject matter, and I would recommend this book wholeheartedly.

But that said, I was a little disappointed in the book, not for what was in it, but for how much more she could have told us. The author has had a rare experience -- who else do you know who has lived on a houseboat in a swamp, without electricity or most modern conveniences, for a decade? Yet I was left feeling that she only related the bare minimum about her years in the swamp. Part of the problem is that the first half of the book appears to contain only her previously-published articles about her life at that time from a small regional magazine, and they are short and lacking a lot of detail. I'm left thinking how much better this book could have been if she had gone back and fleshed those out, adding more information and context. She doesn't discuss how it felt to adjust to such a rustic life, her relationship with the man she shared this life with, or any problems that they encountered, other than their dislike of returning to civilization for supplies every so often. In other words, she doesn't inject much of herself into her descriptions -- her feelings, her hopes or fears.

The second part of the book talks about temporarily working as a cook on a river boat, meeting the man she would later leave Calvin for, and her life since she left the swamp. In many ways, this is the more descriptive part of the book, especially as she details honestly the boredom of riverboat life and the pain of falling in love with another man. I was left imagining what could have been if she had applied the same descriptive style and writing technique to the earlier part of her work.
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Format: Hardcover
Gwen Roland's memoir "Atchafalaya Houseboat: My Years in a Louisiana Swamp" is magical. After the 1973 flood destroyed their first home Roland and her then-partner Calvin Voisin built a house made of cypress on a barge in the Atchafalaya River Basin in south-central Louisiana. The houseboat deep in the dark, black swamp waters of Bloody Bayou and Bayou Sorrel became their home for eight years.
Roland's quiet wisdom and eloquent descriptions of swamp life and everyday routines captured my imagination. Living off the land with no running water or electricity she learned how to drive a boat and how to set nets for catfish. She said, "I became acquainted with my body. Awakened from sanitary air-conditioning hibernation to the trickle of sweat down my arms, the green fragrance of crushed cypress pine needles, and the sensuous luxury of a bath with Ivory Soap in the bayou at sunset."
Roland became absorbed in mastering the not-so-simple skills of the simple life. She said, "I tried my hand at cutting wood, canning vegetables, preparing a smokehouse and making a quilt. Every day there was something new I wanted to learn." Although the days were filled with fishing, cooking, canning, growing food, making wine, tending chickens and trading there were many unexpected pleasures. She writes, "We stand on the porch to watch the last of the sunset. There's not another human being for miles in any direction. The water is perfect in its stillness. A lone owl hoots softly in a nearby tree, shy in front of people who share his woods tonight."
To meet expenses Roland worked as a cook on a river boat for 30 days on two occasions. She later left Voisin and married Preston Roland one of the riverboat engineers. In time Voisin married, had a daughter, and eventually divorced.
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Format: Hardcover
I could hardly put this book down. It was so interesting to see how Gwen Roland & Calvin Voisin lived for so many years. I also enjoyed reading about all of Gwen's travels all over. She has done things that much of us never even dream of doing!
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Format: Hardcover
This well written little book made my heart ache for the land my family left many years ago. As a child, my grandfather took me into the Atchafalaya Basin many times to fish, and told me stories of our family's lumber camp from years prior. Ms. Roland's stories made those memories come flooding back. Her depictions of the people living in the Basin, and the sights, sounds, and smells of the Basin itself are true to my memories.

I highly recommend this book to anyone with a interest in the culture of the Louisiana swamp.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A lot of people fantasize about dropping out of society and going back to the basics and this is why I bought this book. I thought it was going to be interesting to read about somebody who did just that.But after i read the book i was kinda disappointed for what it did NOT contain, for example what happened to the dog? What did Calvin say about her leaving him for another man? What was it like to go without electricity for so long? sooo sooo much was left out.I could have read a book about any typical joe living and making it in the city and got the same amount of enjoyment out of it. Dont get me wrong not all of it was bland there was some very interesting parts to it, thats the reason i gave it three instead of two stars.
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Format: Hardcover
Beautiful, sweet and simple. The topic isn't one I have particular interest in, but the way she writes you can't help but fall in love with her, with Calvin, and with the whole life they create. I read it one night. Definitely recommended for anyone who has ever daydreamed about a quieter life than the one they lead.
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