"Billy Sothern's Down in New Orleans illustrates, in very human and heartbreaking ways, how the horrors that emerged during and following Hurricane Katrina existed long before the storm. These beautifully composed stories not only reveal the dignity—and amazing grit and grace—of the hurricane's survivors; they also illuminate larger truths about the urgent issues of our day. Sothern magnifies the urgency of creating a government that really serves the common good - and a society that protects its poor and vulnerable."
--Katrina vanden Heuvel, Editor and Publisher, The Nation
©2007 Billy Sothern (P)2007 University of California Press
"He eloquently and angrily shows how devastatingly easy it can be for those in power to cast aside the rule of law our society relies on. In outrage he recalls how the prisoners in New Orleans' jail—most of whom had yet to be tried, let alone convicted—had to break open their cell doors to swim to safety. He follows the story of residents suddenly arrested as suspected terrorists and held for weeks with no family contact. Sothern's own story of escape and return adds a personal facet to a Katrina book that looks not to the destruction wrought by the storm, but to that caused by the suspension of rights by those in charge of a great American city now truly in ruins." (Booklist)
I liked this book because it made me examine some pre-concieved notions I had(have.) It took me several chapters to figure out the author's race and religion and my perceptions morphed during the exercise.
I used to live in New Orleans and my brother still does. He was there through Katrina and I was there less than 2 weeks after.
The book presents some of the most grievous episodes of post-Katrina NOLA--evacuees turned back on the Crescent City connection, the handling of state prisoners, the case of Abdulrahman Zeitoun and tries to extrapolate from them a theory of systematic oppression. I didn't quite buy it, but the author shines a light on some obvious problems in southern Louisiana.
As a lawyer who represents death penalty prisoners he has a clear bias against law enforcement and "the system." Every instance of authority paints the law enforcement officers in the worst possible light. I don't doubt that there are bad cops in New Orleans, but I worked with many noble selfless officers when I worked in the Emergnecy Rooms in Baton Rouge, Metairie and Bay St Louis, MS. Still there's no defense for women pushing strollers to be forced back to the Superdome at shotgun point.
The thing about Katrina is that everyone wants a reason why it was a New Orleans thing, or a Southern thing because that means it would never happen in your neighborhood. The uncomfortable truth is that disasters give people a reason to show their true face.
The narration is not bad but there are some glaring pronunciation errors "Mee-tayre" for Metairie and "Mah-rig-nee" for Marigny which are evidence of sloppy production. Thank god he didn't describe any events on Tchoupitoulas.
The book reads like a confession from the author who is trying to exorcise his survivor's guilt rather than an objective reflection on what happened. It is an interesting an compelling read, but it's only a few moments of one side of a very long story.
Why would an author/ publisher/ narrator even bother recording an audiobook making ABSOLUTELY NO EFFORT to learn to properly pronouce the local street names, city names, or surnames? It's not like you can't GET to New Orleans, or make a phone call, or talk to the AUTHOR, who, supposedly, has actually lived there for years. This was PAINFUL to me. I tried to start a list, but it soon became obvious that it would be easier to list the things he pronounced correctly: Canal street....Harry Lee...St. Charles..umm yeah that's about it. SO DISTRACTING, I found myself having to backtrack constantly to force myself to listen to the content. He pronounced "Metairie" about 4 different (wrong) ways. "FAW-berg Ma-RIG-ny". "THibodeaux" (like thistle). "KAY-rondolet". And when he got to the part where he had to list the streets named after the muses, my eye started twitching. All I'm saying is, DUDE. Make an effort, for crying out loud.
The narrator was obliviously not from New Orleans. It was criminal the way he mispronounced the street and neighborhood names as well as distracting.
The book is a veiled attempt to further his cause...racial equally. Alas New Orleans is a city that time forget. Heck we still honor the Napoleonic Code over all law. The civil rights movement has passed us by. There are places blacks are not allowed. I know several groceries, restaurants and apartments that won't serve blacks.
He did lay out a good case for those changes. No one will argue with him that changes are needed but few hold out hope to see them. He thinks poverty and the oppression of the government are to blame. And to a degree they are.
I had lived in New Orleans 21 years prior to Katrina. I have an understanding of its unique political system. It is very flawed as the author knows. He is a lawyer who works to overturn death penalty cases.
He states he has lived in New Orleans for five years. And yet he does not understand what motives the people. The people need New Orleans as it part of their DNA. The rhythm of its life is ingrained in their daily struggle. The unique culture is our very breathe.
It should be noted we vote in the same oppressive people...the mayor, the sheriff, the DA. They are usually in until they retire. We feel comfortable with the familiar. With them we know the rules.
The author whitewashes the struggles in the Superdome to paint a prettier picture of the people who inhabited it. I was there. People can't comprehend the devastation and the feeling of hopelessness we felt. To admit the lawlessness, would be to admit their government had failed.
I find it very interesting that the author blamed everyone but Nagin the mayor. He had the authority over the National Guard. It was he who told President Bush we had been evacuated when we had not. He closed the airport, train and bus stations prior to Katrina thus blocked any means of escape. And it was Nagin who pandered votes for reelection by promising us help. He abandoned the people who gave him their trust and votes.
I find it interesting that the author spends a great deal of time touting the idea that New Orleans should not be rebuilt. Rebuilding it would only be subjecting the citizens to the same extreme poverty and oppression as they had prior to Katrina. Plus they would live in fear of the next hurricane. And they should not be forced to keep bailing us out.
If you are looking for a book on the levees breaking and Katrina with individual stories, this is not the book for you. I doesn't adequately answer the common questions most people ask. If you want to listen to the author on his soap box droning on and on about his honorable cause, buy the book.
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