Posts Tagged ‘community’

This is not a book that you pick up if you just want to laugh or find yourself entwined in a intriguing and adventurous plot. But the moment you finish the first paragraph you will wish you had prepared a full afternoon just to devour these true stories of heartbreak, disaster, death, family, friends, depression, and rebirth. You will laugh, and if you don’t cry I’d be surprised.

Chris Rose writes about packing his family and leaving when Katrina became an urgent threat, and he returned to the Big Easy just ten days after the storm. This collection of stories takes the reader through his experiences, not just from his observations of the physical destruction caused by the Thing, but of the emotional journey as well. No doubt you watched the news and saw people being airlifted from rooftops, you formulated your opinions about the people who chose to stay despite the evacuation, and you may have even found a way to help with relief efforts (even if it was only to put a few coins into a collection jar at your local grocery store). The point is, you knew about Katrina and the failure of the levees, but you don’t really know what it was like unless you were here, and this memoir is probably the closest you can get to understanding what it was like to be here during the aftermath.

Rose’s writing is like reading a journal; you read the rawness of his observations, his emotions, and you feel like you’re peeking into something secret, something that you’re not really supposed to see. Yet you keep turning the pages climbing deeper and deeper into a reality that is a very significant part of another person’s life. The paragraphs are short, sometimes only a sentence long, as are the chapters. And while this structure is a little choppy (similar to reading newspaper articles), the thoughts flow, they meld, and they dance around each other with humble ease.

If you want to know more about New Orleans, her people, and their dedication to each other then this is a must read book. Nothing brings people together like a tragedy.

Tortilla Flat was among Steinbeck’s first published novels. He attempts to mimic the Arthurian legend of the nights of the round table in the spirit of the Paisano population of Monterey Bay, California. After the novel was published Steinbeck was horrified that readers looked down upon the characters who he had meant to be seen as heroic in a simple fashion; Steinbeck stated, “I wrote these stories because they were true stories and I liked them. But literary slummers have taken these people up with the vulgarity of duchesses who are amused and sorry for a peasantry. These stories are out, and I cannot recall them. But I shall never again subject to the vulgar touch of the decent these good people of laughter and kindness, of honest lusts and direct eyes, of courtesy beyond politeness.” Steinbeck was able to see the good in humanity, even when it was disguised behind alcoholism, thievery, violence, and lust.

Steinbeck uses archaic language like “dost thou and hast thou” to emphasize the Arthurian feel. Unfortunately this technique was counter productive for me. Each time I read a comment like this, it pulled me out of the story. I’m not sure if this dialect was still used in the early twentieth century, but it feels out of context, and unnatural coming from these men who steal food and wine, and whose base concerns are keeping gallons of whine in the house. While they do many good deeds for the community, there is always an underlying greed that gets in the way of the reader recognizing their humanitarian efforts. Only Danny, the main character who represents King Arthur, can come close to being considered selfless, because he offers his home to anyone in need and hardly bothers to wake when he’s told his friends have burned down his second home.

Additionally there were several references to the “miserly Jew” and I wonder if Steinbeck was anti-Semitic, or if this was merely a cliche concept that he was portraying. Overall the book was a decent and quick read.