Monday, June 01, 2009

City of Refuge

by Tom Piazza
City of Refuge is about two families living in New Orleans as Katrina approaches and then hits. But more than that, it's about the meaning of "home." How bad do things get before you give up on your home? What is home without the people who made it feel that way? What if your home doesn't feel like home to your wife? What ties you there, and what pulls you away?

Katrina is, of course, one of the most politicized disasters in recent history. Whereas other natural disasters can sometimes be thought of as a pure and simple tragedy, a terrible "act of God," there was nothing simple about Katrina and its aftermath. And even those in New Orleans when it hit were initially relieved when the storm missed the city and seemed to blow over with fairly minimal damage. Then the poorly-built levees broke, all around the city, and the waters rushed in. Around America, people saw it on the news, and almost immediately felt compelled to comment on it. "Why didn't those people get out of there?" "Why isn't the government helping them?" "Why would anyone build a house below sea level?" Tom Piazza captures the media storm as well as the experience of those whose lives were directly affected, who often had much less access to information about what was happening to their town.

I love books that put you firmly in the shoes and skins of people far away, people you never thought you'd relate to, and help you see through their eyes. Tom Piazza has written about New Orleans before, but here he expertly uses the novel form to create empathy in the reader. His characters are devastatingly real, beautifully flawed human beings who are doing what they can to live their lives, to make a home wherever they can.

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