A powerful, heartfelt and sometimes angry take on a great American city.

THE YEAR BEFORE THE FLOOD

A STORY OF NEW ORLEANS

Musician and “Afropop Worldwide” radio producer Sublette delivers an intense and thoughtful “companion volume” to The World that Made New Orleans (2008).

Where that book was more an examination of the city’s cultural heritage, here the author skillfully synthesizes his personal history, his passion for music and an account of his fellowship as an independent scholar at Tulane, which concluded in the portentous summer of 2005. First, Sublette recalls his childhood in Natchitoches, which revealed to him the true horror of the Jim Crow South. The author contrasts this with the amazing African-American music culture that grew in opposition to this dehumanization. A true obsessive, he writes expertly of the intricate cross-pollination of blues, funk, soul and other genres. When he arrived for his fellowship, Sublette was made nervous by the racial tension, the prospect of violence and the possibility of a catastrophic hurricane, as evoked by the near-miss of Ivan following his arrival. He finds “The Big Easy” to be a “thoroughly ironic nickname” for this city, which in that pre-Katrina year was stressed and physically decrepit. Sublette has many experiences both good (music, food, local people) and bad (close calls with crime and violence, including the revelation that a notorious murder occurred in their rented house two years before he moved in). But even as he enjoys himself and conducts extensive research on the New Orleans music scene—creating numerous interesting, entertaining narrative tangents, like his examination of the city’s raunchy hip-hop culture—the author remains aware of the city’s fragility: “I knew I was seeing something imperiled.”

A powerful, heartfelt and sometimes angry take on a great American city.

Pub Date: Aug. 29, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-55652-824-8

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Lawrence Hill Books/Chicago Review

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2009

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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