Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Cannonball Read #46: 1 Dead in Attic: After Katrina by Chris Rose

Anyone who has been following this blog at all this year (and thanks to the two of you I know are out there--I definitely appreciate both your readership and your comments) knows that I have been fixated on disasters. Shipwrecks, fires, blizzards, floods--I've been reading about it all...but it's all been historical. In all the reading I'd done until this point, the most recent disaster was probably the Andrea Doria sink, which I believe happened in 1958. I like my disasters in the past, thank you; the older they are, the more comfortable they are to read about. Plus there's all that fascinating and previously unknown historical context to discover. However, I'd come to the decision that maybe these historic disasters were just a bit TOO comfortable. Maybe it was time for me to get uncomfortable. I saw Chris Rose on an episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations reading snippets from this book, and it seemed like something I wanted to read.

1 Dead in Attic is a compilation of columns that Rose wrote for the Times-Picayune in the sixteen months following hurricane Katrina's destruction of New Orleans. As a long-time resident and a newspaper reporter who chose to stay in the city and document the destruction, it is a heartfelt book. Many of the columns focus on the minutiae of life, and how even those tiny, normal moments have become something rare and precious in a city where nothing is normal. From his coverage of the immediate aftermath--riding around the city on his bicycle, crossing paths with other dazed survivors and trying to decode the spray-painted signs on the local buildings--to his opinions on the rebuilding and rebirth of the city he loves, Rose writes from the heart, trying to explain both to locals and to the outside world just what is going on and how to deal with it all.

I felt a little lost with this book, if only because one of things I love about the disaster books I have been reading is--as I mentioned above--the chance to learn about the historical context of the event. The problem here is that I KNOW the historical context because this was only four years ago. I watched this whole mess unfold on my very own television. It was both fascinating and surreal to read about an event I watched happen. On the upside, it gave me a personal perspective on the whole thing I couldn't get from CNN alone.

The book gets very dark, and this makes much more sense when Rose writes toward the end of the book about how he had slipped into a very serious clinical depression during the year following Katrina. He makes this story both intensely personal and universal, trying to combine the tragedy with humor and hope.

On the whole I thought it was good that I read this book, though I would hesitate to recommend it to those who are particularly sensitive. The writing is good, and I couldn't put it down, but after I finished it, I couldn't bear to anything but eat ice cream and watch cartoons for about four hours.

1 comment:

Spender said...

I've read a great deal about Katrina and the aftermath but was unaware of this book. Thanks for the review; I'll be reading this one.