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Tom Piazza's "City of Refuge"

On Fridays many blogs around the kidlitosphere post entries about poems, but I am going to cheat today and talk about fiction. For adults. Actually, some teenagers would probably like it, too.

Tom Piazza's new novel, City of Refuge (Harper, 2008), is one of the best books I've read in a long time. I will be very surprised if a National Book Award nomination doesn't come its way next month. With riffs of writing rolling out so beautifully they're almost poetry, Piazza's story tells of two New Orleans residents at the time of Hurricane Katrina. One is SJ, a widowed builder with deep roots in the Ninth Ward, and the other is Craig, a married journalist in love with the Crescent City. Doer and documenter, black and white, native son and Midwestern transplant—the contrasts abound. In a setting backlit with sorrow, these two men, along with their families and a host of other well-drawn characters, must cope with disaster. Really, the word "disaster" is inadequate, but I will leave it at that.

Here is an excerpt from a passage early in the course of events, before the hurricane hits.  In explaining the "integrated fabric" of New Orleans life, Piazza draws a line from the AME Zion Church on Sunday to the abundance of restaurants like "...Upperline or Clancy's or the St. Charles  Tavern, or the Acme Oyster House or Henry's Soul Spot..."

"...and you know that street, or you don't know the street but it has a smell and a rhythm and a personality, and getting there is part of the experience, and you form a map in your heart of all the places that make you so happy, and there are always other people there being happy, too. No matter what you may be dealing with in life, you can still enjoy a bowl of gumbo or some shrimp creole, can't you? Of course you can."

Where does a reader go after reading a novel like that? Almost anything else would be a letdown. When I finished Jhumpa Lahiri's short-story-collection Unaccustomed Earth, I dove directly into an anthology of stories by Alice Munro. Maybe I'll turn to Piazza's Why New Orleans Matters, a book of nonfiction published not long after Katrina struck. I'm not ready to leave the city just yet.

I do like poems, too, so I'll be sure to stop by the Poetry Friday roundup at Wild Rose Reader this afternoon.

Comments

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Thanks for the recommendation, Susan! I've been looking for a good book.

Kelly, it's a beautiful novel. If the copy I read wasn't a library book, I would have gone through and highlighted all my favorite passages. Hope you like it!

I'll definitely put this on my list.

I am looking forward to reading it. Thanks for the recommendation.

Wisteria and NT, let me know what y'all think. Wisteria, it did make me homesick and I never even lived there. I used to visit a lot as a kid, though. NT, I'll lend you my library copy, okay?

Susie,

That sounds great. I'll definitely put it on my list...right behind my haul from Lemuria!

CT

Hey, Cindy. I thought it was an excellent book and really got the New Orleans rhythm of life down cold. I bet Tom Piazza did a reading at Lemuria. Jackson plays a little part in the book. One family has to spend the night there at a hotel, on lounge chairs by the pool.

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