Simple Pleasures Book Review:
Nine Lives by Dan Baum
I will admit to a long-held fascination with the city of New Orleans. It’s not just one thing that intrigues me, but everything; the food, the music, the traditions, the bawdy, naughty, in-your-face lust for a roaring good time that is so much part of the Crescent City. It has always seemed to me to be a city that was the embodiment of enjoying life. Their unofficial credo says it all : Laissez les bons temps rouler -” let the good times roll”. Despite the crime, bad schools, poverty, corruption and every other disparaging thing you could say about a city, the people who were born in or have adopted New Orleans as their own, feel a special devotion to it. It seems to have a pull as old and as constant as the waterways that surround it. It is this strong pull… this devotion that Dan Baum brings to life in Nine Lives.
Dan Baum was in New Orleans to cover Hurricane Katrina for The New Yorker but after that story was told, he felt there was a larger story to be told. A story that didn’t center on a single event, but rather the city that became inextricably linked with that monster storm and the people who were such a vital part of New Orleans.
The individuals Baum profiles in this rolling saga, that starts with the aftermath of Hurricane Betsy in 1965 and spans throughout the difficult post-Katrina years are not famous or particularly notable. Few outside of New Orleans would know who they are, but each is a part of the mystery and wonder of what makes that city so unique and vital. These residents give their own perspective of what being a New Orleanian means. These views come from the family and community origins of the Lower Ninth Ward to the gilded and socially lofty heights of the Rex Mansion on St. Charles in uptown.
The nine individuals Baum chose to profile in his book – individuals whose lives sometimes overlap, sometimes not- provide a glimpse of the essence of New Orleans that perhaps could never be seen by any one person. Careful examination of the stories told between the covers of this book makes the reader understand just how special, unique and valuable this glorious, sometimes notorious, city is. The lasting impression the reader is left with is this: the city of New Orleans makes these people special, while at the same time the people of New Orleans make the city the very special place it is- and will hopefully continue to be.
Review by Brenda Seward
Nine Lives- Mystery, Magic, Death & Life in New Orleans by Dan Baum is published by Random House and is available in paperback edition from Simple Pleasures Books & other retailers