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The Fight for Home: How (Parts of) New Orleans Came Back Hardcover – August 7, 2012
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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.
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.Read more ›
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.