In this poignant and vivid memoir, Peter M. Wolf, a member of one of New Orleans’s oldest Jewish families, provides an insider’s look at his fabled city and the wider world beyond that he comes to inhabit.
Written with humor and telling detail, My New Orleans contains rare insight about the social structure of New Orleans; student life at Exeter, Tulane and Yale; the thrill of original scholarship; around the world travel before jets; medical school trauma; ingrained southern racism, and anti-Semitism; and American students’ role in anti-Vietnam uprisings in Paris. In the background, he traces the rags to riches rise and fall of his city’s and his family’s engagement in the cotton, sugar and retail trades.
After a year of medical school at Columbia, and continuing his journey of self-discovery, Wolf returns to New Orleans to work in his father’s cotton brokerage and simultaneously earns a master’s degree at Tulane. In spite of a spicy love affair, his residence in a glorious French Quarter courtyard, his purchase of a dilapidated building he expects to restore, and growing prominence in his community, Wolf returns to the east. He completes doctoral studies at NYU and becomes an architectural historian, a profession in which he earns considerable prominence.
The author’s complicated and achingly explored romantic life is slammed to a close by a saucy, waspy, ex-pat from Texas whom he meets in Paris during his year as a Fulbright scholar, and subsequently marries.
Reflecting the yearnings and anxieties of a generation that came of age after World War II, this is the iconic journey of a restless man who leaves the hometown he loves to discover the world, and in so doing, to find himself. My New Orleans offers a penetrating and memorable account of a fading period of America’s evolution, turbulence and possibilities, as unique as the city of Wolf’s memory.