“Down in New Orleans: Reflections from a Drowned City”–a memoir and an elegy

Sothern, Billy. “Down in New Orleans: Reflections from a Drowned City”, University of California Press, 2007.

A Love Song and an Elegy

Amos Lassen

Almost six years ago Katrina took New Orleans by storm and now the stories are coming out. I can’t imagine returning to the Crescent City but I do enjoy reading abut what is going on there. In “Down in New Orleans” Billy Sothern tells how hard it is to live in the town post-Katrina. He not only says that it is hard to live there but he also says that it is hard to love there and hard to take care of oneself. He carefully chronicles the coming of the storm as well as the year that followed it.

Sothern and his wife moved to New Orleans four years before Katrina and he writes both a love song and a eulogy to the city. He writes with passion and detail and explains how he and his wife came to deal with what they experienced. Some of the images that he presents make me remember just too well some of my own experiences that I have struggled to forget.

What amazes me the most is the spirit f the people who managed to celebrate Mardi Gras while living in trailers amid the destruction of the city. What is most important is that he looks at not only the vision of what Katrina brought to New Orleans but to the entire nation. He damns everything that went wrong after the storm  but also gives a beautiful tribute to New Orleans. It is hard to believe that two years later, New Orleans is still not back up and running as it should and that the government of the United States as done so little to help the city return to its former self.

This is a book that causes the heart to break and it does so by exposing the inners of the city that was having serous problems long before Katrina. We get to see the dignity and the desire of the survivors to have their city back but Sothern also looks at many urgent issues that do not seem to have any help coming. Sothern shows how the government of the United States has not served the common good and has not protected the poor and the vulnerable.

To forget and forsake New Orleans is a terrible thing and we can almost feel Sothern urging us to return and not just return but do so immediately.

Sothern’s emotions are right there on the page and it is hard not to be moved by what he writes. As a former New Orleanian I found myself often moved to tears while reading but I also knew that I would not return to a city that has so many problems and class divisions. I love Little Rock and she has been good to me but that New Orleans inside of me will always be there. I left some of me there but I am not planning to return. I don’t think I am ready or even want to deal with it all.

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