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Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans by…

Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans

by Dan Baum

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I liked this a lot. It reminded me, oddly, of George R. R. Martin's Game of Thrones series, in the way that the author uses various shifting perspectives to describe the culture and mores of modern-day New Orleans. As with Martin's books, the technique can be confusing at first, and I was probably halfway through the book before I felt totally comfortable with who everyone was. The book was riveting, and the many short chapters made it hard to put down; you always think there is time to read just one more.

My only quibble is that I wish more women had been included: only three women (one of them transgendered) among the nine perspectives. That was a little disappointing to me, and I wish Baum had found a way to incorporate more female voices. ( )
  gayla.bassham | Nov 7, 2016 |
This nonfiction book about New Orleans and Katrina explores the subject through the view points of nine New Orleanians. It depicts their lives from Hurricane Betsy in 1965 through Katrina. Among the individuals with whom we become intimate: a streetcar track repairman, the transvestite owner of a bar and his ex-wife, a former Rex, King of Carnival, the wife of the most well-known Mardi Gras Indian, a cop, the New Orleans coronor, the bandmaster of one of New Orleans public schools famous marching bands, a criminal, a 9th ward woman seeking to better herself. Nine Lives does what City of Refuge did not do: it conveys what life was like in New Orleans pre-Katrina--how unique and varied it was, and why so many people would not live anywhere else in the world. For this it is well-worth the read.

I was particularly taken with some of the events disclosed by Frank Minyard the New Orleans coronor. He details the days of waiting in the makeshift morgue for the bodies of victims to be delivered. First the 82nd airborne volunteered to retrieve the bodies, but was denied authorization to do so by higher-ups. Then the National Guard volunteered. Same thing. Then the Louisiana State Patrol. Same story. When a representative of SCI, the largest funeral home operation in America, showed up, Minyard finally got it: 'Let me see if I've got this straight. Dead people rot on the streets of New Orleans for a week and a half so the feds can sign a private contract?' Minyard also refused to let officials take the easy way out and list the cause of death as 'drowning,' as the deaths were initially classified. 'A lot of these people died from heat exhaustion, dehydration, stress, from being without their medications--from neglect basically. They were abandoned out there.'

Nine Lives is skillfully written--no long lists here. While, as in the case of Minyard, each of the individuals discusses their Katrina experiences, Katrina and its aftermath is not the focus of this book. It is a deft exploration of why New Orleans matters. ( )
  arubabookwoman | Feb 24, 2016 |
This was an excellent study of the unique city of New Orleans. Nine very different individuals were the focus and all recounted life before Katrina (most decades before it), during the storm, and soon afterwards. Their love of their city regardless of their economic/social standing shone through.
The presentation of this book is similar to John Berendt's Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil and Studs Terkel's Working and The Good War. ( )
  nljacobs | Jan 19, 2016 |
3.5 stars

The author is a journalist who was in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, where he met some interesting people... people he later decided to write about. This tells the stories of nine different residents of New Orleans, starting in the 1960s and continues through and past Katrina to 2007. Some of the people include: a police officer, a doctor/coroner, a high school band teacher, a pregnant teenage girl who really wanted to go to college, a man who grew up in and stayed in the poor Lower Ninth Ward, a transgender woman, and more.

Like with short stories, I found some of the people's stories more interesting than others. It was a bit tricky to follow at first, as it went in chronological order, so it switched back and forth between all the people, plus it moved forward, sometimes years at a time, when it came back to someone we'd previously read about. Probably no surprise that I found it picked up with the hurricane about half way through the book – in some cases, I found myself more interested in some of the characters whom I hadn't been as interested in previously. Overall, though, I'm rating this “good”. ( )
  LibraryCin | Oct 4, 2015 |
I CANNOT BEGIN TO EXPRESS JUST HOW GREAT THIS BOOK ACTUALLY IS!!! I JUST FINISHED. Next time I visit and walk the beautiful streets of New Orleans, I will do so with much more understanding of what this city REALLY SUFFERED through during those long hours, days, and weeks after Katrina. I will smile at each stranger I see, knowing a little bit more about their heritage and why those that remained in New Orleans remained so when they were asked to evacuate. When I walk along the magnificent Riverwalk on the Mississippi River, I will forever hear the written words of Dan Baum and the stories told to him by nine lives that loved New Orleans more than I can ever understand. I will see what it is that they wanted me to see from the stories that they wanted to tell.


( )
  MaryEvelynLS | Jun 1, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 038552319X, Hardcover)

Book Description
The hidden history of a haunted and beloved city told through the intersecting lives of nine remarkable characters.

After Hurricane Katrina, Dan Baum moved to New Orleans to write about the city’s response to the disaster for The New Yorker. He quickly realized that Katrina was not the most interesting thing about New Orleans, not by a long shot. The most interesting question, which struck him as he watched residents struggling to return, was this: Why are New Orleanians—along with people from all over the world who continue to flock there—so devoted to a place that was, even before the storm, the most corrupt, impoverished, and violent corner of America?

Here’s the answer. Nine Lives is a multivoiced biography of this dazzling, surreal, and imperiled city through the lives of nine characters over forty years and bracketed by two epic storms: Hurricane Betsy, which transformed the city in the 1960’s, and Katrina, which nearly destroyed it. These nine lives are windows into every strata of one of the most complex and fascinating cities in the world. From outsider artists and Mardi Gras Kings to jazz-playing coroners and transsexual barkeeps, these lives are possible only in New Orleans, but the city that nurtures them is also, from the beginning, a city haunted by the possibility of disaster. All their stories converge in the storm, where some characters rise to acts of heroism and others sink to the bottom. But it is New Orleans herself—perpetually whistling past the grave yard—that is the story’s real heroine.

Nine Lives is narrated from the points of view of some of New Orleans’s most charismatic characters, but underpinning the voices of the city is an extraordinary feat of reporting that allows Baum to bring this kaleidoscopic portrait to life with brilliant color and crystalline detail. Readers will find themselves wrapped up in each of these individual dramas and delightfully immersed in the life of one of this country’s last unique places, even as its ultimate devastation looms ever closer. By resurrecting this beautiful and tragic place and portraying the extraordinary lives that could have taken root only there, Nine Lives shows us what was lost in the storm and what remains to be saved.

Amazon Exclusive: Dan Baum on Nine Lives

Hurricane Katrina was the kind of event a reporter waits his entire life to cover. It was especially satisfying doing so for The New Yorker. While newspaper and television reporters chased about feverishly in their attempt to feed the insatiable daily news monster, I enjoyed the time to go deep and peel back the tragedy in all its complexity. I wrote half a dozen short “Talk of the Town” pieces and two long articles over the following year.

Even working for The New Yorker, though, covering Katrina and its aftermath became frustrating. The longer I stayed in New Orleans, the more I understood that huge as Katrina was, it is hardly the most interesting thing about New Orleans. New Orleans is the most unusual place I’ve ever been—complicated, sensual, self-contradictory, hilarious, infuriating—and it was the place itself, not the tragedy that befell it, that I wanted to write about.

So when my wife and I thought about writing a book, it wasn’t a “Katrina book” we had in mind. We finally settled on interweaving the life stories of nine New Orleanians—rich and poor and in between, black and white and in between, male and female and in between. Nine Lives begins in 1965, right after the last time a big part of the city flooded during a hurricane. By this we want to say: New Orleans was there a long time before Hurricane Katrina and it will be there a long time after. Katrina doesn’t show up in Nine Lives until past page 200.

We had two guiding principles: No bad guys, and all happy endings. All nine of these people are, in their own way, heroes. And while we could have ended any of their stories on a down note, we instead end all at a moment of ascendance. There are many ways of looking at New Orleans, but this is how we chose to do so in Nine Lives.

We were careful not to make Nine Lives the kind of "issue" book one must read to understand current events. We want people to read it for the same reason they read The Kite Runner or The Bridges of Madison County—out of love of the characters and a warm, delicious eagerness to see their lives unfold. New Orleans is above all, a fun place, and we tried to make Nine Lives as much fun to read. —Dan Baum

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:02 -0400)

"Nine Lives" explores New Orleans through the lives of nine characters over 40 years, bracketed by two epic hurricanes. It brings back to life the doomed city, its wondrous subcultures, and the rich and colorful lives that played themselves out within its borders.… (more)

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