- Hardcover: 352 pages
- Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 1 edition (August 7, 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1608194795
- ISBN-13: 978-1608194797
- Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 5 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,817,681 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Fight for Home: How (Parts of) New Orleans Came Back 1st Edition
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About the Author
Daniel Wolff is the author of How Lincoln Learned to Read, a Chicago Tribune Editor's Choice pick; 4th of July, Asbury Park, a New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice pick; You Send Me: The Life and Times of Sam Cooke, a national bestseller; and two volumes of poetry, among other books. His writing has appeared in publications ranging from Vogue to Wooden Boat to Education Weekly. He is the co-producer, with Jonathan Demme, of several documentary film projects on New Orleans.
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Top customer reviews
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Daniel Wolff's The Fight for Home follows various people in the lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans as they try to return and rebuild after Hurricane Katrina. Both heart-breaking and inspiring, the book's over-arching themes are the failure of federal, state, and local governments in the response to the storm and to work together to aid those most affected by the hurricane; and the determination of those same residents to "fight for home". The people Wolff focuses on are "everyday" people. Any reader will know a version at least one those New Orleans residents, if not more.
While the book does not portray the various levels of government in a positive light, it is not partisan in this respect. This tone is set at the beginning with the introduction of Pastor Mel, a man who voted for Bush twice, and who is angry at both Bush and Nagin in the Hurricane's aftermath. Pastor Mel further illustrates how both federal and local government disappointed the residents in different ways. He is angry at Bush for one reason and Nagin for another. While the failures of FEMA are pointed out, so are the failures in the rebuilding plans of the local New Orleans government as well as the cash hand-outs controlled by the state government. The truth of government as more than one level and politician parties as diverse is further enhanced by the story of Common Ground, a group founded by Malik, a former Black Panther. Suncere, a long time member of the group, notes that, to his surprise, he found local Republicans more willing to aid him than local liberals.
If Wolff shows how the levels of government failed to communicate and mismanaged the rebuilding in different ways, he also illustrates how citizens stepped in. One of the more interesting and hopeful stories is that of the friendship that develops between Suncere, who has a tattoo of Africa on his face, and Mike, a grandfather who flies a Confederate Flag over his ruined home. It is a friendship that seems to exhibit the racial mixture that New Orleans was and should be, that American itself should be, an idea discussed both by Pastor Mel in his critique of Nagin, and by a Carolyn, a woman who was told by various people that she died in the storm, and who uses her home cooking to illustrate her point about race and community. That scene is one of the best in the book. It is absolutely beautiful. This idea of community coming together and of learning from each other is juxtaposed with the racial history of New Orleans. Wolff give the reader the history of how the neighborhoods developed as well as the fact that some schools (and streets) still carry the names of politicians who supported Segregation. The people he follows have also fought against racism, Carolyn and Pastor Mel's parents have stories of the Civil Rights Era to tell. Malik points out that while he gets called an Uncle Tom because of the vast number of white college volunteers in Common Ground, if the group had been pre-dominantly African-American, they would have been shot at by the National Guard and police. Wolff's description of rebuilding after the hurricane shows a city that seems to be returning to segregation as a result of the re-building efforts of the various political groups.
The story of Carolyn showcases what is the best and the worst of the rebuilding efforts after the Hurricane. Carolyn is a woman that could be anyone's grandmother. Wolff describes her in such a way that she would be the life of any party. You want to invite her over for a barbeque. She waits and waits. She waits in a FEMA trailer after waiting for a FEMA trailer. She waits for money from the state. She waits for the DA to sue the contractor who robbed her. She finally gets help from a local historical district plan as well as community groups. This is a woman who deserves more than she what she got, though she is such a lady, a tough cookie, that she doesn't complain. Carolyn's daughter, Kyrah, illustrates the struggle people faced after the storm. She struggles for her education, disrupted by the storm, she and her brother struggle to find work, to get out. Katrina did more than wreck homes and destroys families; it destroyed futures in less obvious ways.
If Carolyn's children have a future at risk, they are balanced by Pastor Mel who has been there. A onetime drug addict who became clean, Pastor Mel gives back to the community. He runs a drug recovery ministry, a group that was one of the first to help residents after Katrina, working long before the federal government arrived. Pastor Mel takes the reader to the homeless but also the house of his parents, a rebuilt family home. Pastor Mel is determined to make a difference, and he does not blow his own horn. He thinks, he speaks, he works with and though the government when he can. Like Carolyn, he is someone you would like to meet.
Wolff's writing captures not only the city, but the people. The ARC didn't have any pictures, but a reader doesn't need them. Wolff describes in terms of showing. The people are presented in such a way that their speech and mannerism convey who they are. Knowing that Suncere named his red pickup truck Harriet Tubman tells the reader far more than any picture could.
I don't have the knowledge, experience, or background to comment on how this book would tie into urban development, sociology, or history classes. I can't say if Wolff truly captures the disintegration, de-radicalization, and the success or failure of Common Ground. I teach reading and writing, and this book is ideal for a reading class. Not only does Wolff cover the issues of New Orleans but he ties those issues into the larger American picture, in particular with education and the rise of Charter schools. There are issues about race, society, and history in these pages. The book engages the reader emotionally and intellectually. You want to discuss this book with people. Such a book should required reading for everyone in the country.
That's more than enough to justify a strong review, but Wolff goes beyond the story by incorporating a kind of shadow book focusing on the possibilities and problems of various approaches to political activism. He gives serious attention to the relationship between church-based activism, secular community organizing (based on various types of political belief), celebrity charity initiatives, and the almost-entirely ineffective government programs. He demonstrates the problems with white volunteerism in primarily black communities; probes the changing demographics of New Orleans; acknowledges the reality of infiltration and betrayal. By the time I finished, I was convinced this is a near-perfect book for would-be activists, one that provides test scenarios in their full complexity. That's close to my working definition for great fiction: it provides us with thick models of reality that allow us to think through moral and political and existential decisions before we encounter them in our lives.
One of the top half-dozen books of the year.
I admire Mr. Wolff for his ability to set his ego aside in this work. There is no strong narrative voice, no heavy-handed assertions from the author. He follows the lives of several New Orleanians for five years as they struggle to rebuild their home in a decimated, disoriented, often lawless city, and he lets these people speak for themselves. It is their voices that have been denied, this book seems to be saying, their voices that have immeasurable value and deserve to be heard. I couldn't agree more.