- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: Pantheon; 1 edition (August 5, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0375425330
- ISBN-13: 978-0375425332
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 13 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,674,671 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Babylon Rolling: A Novel Hardcover – August 5, 2008
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A family from Minneapolis relocates to New Orleans one year before Katrina and settles on Orchard Street, partly because it offers a rich human gumbo of whites, blacks, Asians, and Tulane students. The family members want to revel in the diversity, but they also recoil at some of the differences they encounter. At the same time, the marital stresses between husband and wife are deepening. Babylon Rolling is a chronicle of life on Orchard Street during that year before disaster. It is an engaging and keenly observant book, a kind of literary block party in which the residents of Orchard Street come to life. Whether Boyden’s focus is on a black teenager who embarks on a career in the drug trade by dubbing himself Fearius, or on the Minnesota transplants’ reactions to their new home, or on the fierce heat and humidity, or the wondrous smells that waft from kitchens, or racial tensions, there is an honesty and bedrock reality to this novel that is never less than compelling. Boyden’s Pretty Little Dirty (2006) was a first novel of promise. Babylon Rolling fulfills that promise. --Thomas Gaughan
ACCLAIM FOR AMANDA BOYDEN
“Set in the chaotic months surrounding a treacherous hurricane, Boyden’s second novel is an adroit, compulsively readable study of a city and the shared humanity that unites its diverse inhabitants.”
–People, four out of four stars
“Once in a great while, a novel comes along that makes you sit up and look around at your world and see it anew, in all its richness and complexity, as if you had just arrived there from a great distance. Amanda Boyden's second novel, Babylon Rolling, does that for New Orleans…. She surprises at every turn, seizing upon the way violence -- and joy -- can erupt in a moment. Babylon Rolling is many books in one -- a brilliant, nuanced portrait of pre-Katrina New Orleans; a passionate defense of the city; a clear-eyed critique of the problems that remain. Gracefully weaving together strands of race relations, food, music and Mardi Gras (‘Babylon rolls at 5:45, the paper said, Chaos at 6’), Boyden shoots right to the heart of a fabulous, flawed city. Her aim is true. In Babylon Rolling, as in life, New Orleanians stand and fall together, rescue one another and, in doing so, themselves.”
–Times-Picayune (New Orleans)
“Complex and compelling.... Boyden has so fully and generously imagined Orchid Street and its inhabitants. Her writing acknowledges the depth of race and class divisions... but she’s also aware of the ways people break out of their assigned roles.... From the stutter steps her characters take toward and away from one another, Boyden creates an engrossing dance.... The five story lines build into a terrifically vivid portrait of a city and its people.” –San Francisco Chronicle
“Few contemporary novels are, at their root, as compelling about the relationship between a city and the people who live there. Boyden’s Babylon Rolling is a love letter, sometimes sad, sometimes angry, sometimes beautiful, between New Orleans and five people who live on one of its streets.” –The Globe and Mail (Toronto)
“It is possible that New Orleans is the perfect setting for the post-9/11 American novel…. Like the characters in the gorgeous and tactile Babylon Rolling, our survival hinges on our ability to cope with the lack of a universal culture and common body politic, the truth that natural disasters and random violence are a fact of life.” –Mother Jones
“Boyden's novel conveys the patchwork of New Orleans' Uptown neighborhoods–very much evident in Riverbend, where working-class whites and blacks live alongside old-line socialites and immigrant professionals. . . . Episodic but not predictable, it is a book that beckons to be read for just a few more pages.” –Mobile Press-Register
“Threats of natural disaster bracket this novel of New Orleans, which opens just prior to Hurricane Ivan in September 2004 and ends with the ominous approach of Katrina the following summer. In the intervening year, certain residents of the Uptown district weather personal tragedies rivaling the impact of killer storms. Orchid Street, diverse by any standard, includes two African American families, upstanding senior citizens Roy and Cerise Brown and the more struggling Harrises, as well as a young family of well-meaning but clueless whites recently arrived from Minnesota, a half-mad gentlewoman of the old school, and the exotic, intellectual Gupta clan. Neighborhood bar Tokyo Rose serves all as both haven from and catalyst of neighborhood disturbances. As lives and cultures overlap, the author of Pretty Little Dirty melds an enticing sense of place and a kaleidoscope of distinctive voices into a cautionary tale of ambition, desire, and conflict.”
"Boyden has a chameleon-like ability to inhabit any persona, of any race or age, so fully and seamlessly it's hard to remember that these people are invented rather than real. Pre-Katrina New Orleans leaps to life on every page, a beautiful, seamy, fragile city on the brink of chaos and ruin. Babylon Rolling is a heart-breaking and riveting novel."
--Kate Christensen, author of The Great Man, winner of the 2008 PEN/Faulkner Award
"Boyden invoked an array of New Orleans voices on Uptown's Orchid Street . . . an American Babylon that batters and woos with delights and disasters . . . The book's nuanced story of people who 'choose to live . . . inside the big lasso of river' reveals a side of the Crescent City not often seen in fiction."
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First things first, I get that being "edgy" was what Boyden tried to do, but there are many, many, many ways to portray juvenile delinquents without writing in "ebonics" so thick that even reading out loud doesn't help. And seriously, a teenage black boy from a broken, poor home who doesn't speak properly and is a drug dealer and sleeps with girls without a second thought? How stereotypically original. And just because almost every other word he says is the n-word does not make him more hard. If anything it's just reiterating that a white female author should not be writing about the minority culture if all she's going to do is take and see the negatives and roll with them. Almost all the minorities in the story have a huge negative factor about them. The drug dealer brothers, their parents who clearly don't know how to raise children because the boys sisters are pregnant. The older black lady who has a daughter who doesn't know how to raise a child and is resistant to her mother's advice. (Jesus Boyden, have you only been around two black families in your life? There are many, many, many functional black families in existence.) The staff at the hotel that works for the main female character seem completely shady. There's always a sense of mistrust whenever they are mentioned.The novel greatly offended me and I expected something more and better from this author.
Amanda Boyden accomplishes no easy feat in this novel. The novel is told in five distinct voices, and I found myself rooting for and then against and then, once again, for the five protagonists at various points in the story. The characters are incredibly complex. Like anybody else, they are flawed, but they are not without their redemptive merits. And, as Hurricane Katrina gathers force in the Gulf and the book comes to a heartbreaking climax--well, I won't ruin the ending, but I will say that this book will stick with you long after you've put it down (and, if you're reading experience was anything like mine, you'll finish the book about two days after you first picked it up).
My highest possible recommendation.