I read a lot. Right now, I think I’m in the middle of 5 books. Some of them I have read from in the past few days, others have been longer. Anywhere in the house, there seems to be a book I can pick up for a few minutes and then put down and get back to work.
I picked this book up because Amazon asked me to. Well, they asked Dave to, but I’ll review it in his name, so it’s all good.
City of Refuge is a book about New Orleans. It is set in the few days prior to, the day during and the months after Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent levee breaks. It is written in the historical fiction genre, using made up characters to drive home the scope of the disaster and the misery that followed. Interestingly, I didn’t care for the fiction approach.
Clearly the author, Tom Piazza, has extensive knowledge of the lead up to and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. He describes the damages as one who was there when it happened. He brings to life the flavor of the Lower Ninth Ward, the uniqueness of New Orleans streets, the hopelessness of the elderly and the poverty stricken, the panic of the flood waters, and the lack of sanitation in the Superdome. He writes about the exodus, the lack of information regarding who was affected, the inability to know whether one’s own family was alive, or dead.
However, the drawback to the book was the characterization. The main characters are a white business man, Craig, and a black Vietnam vet, SJ. They are stereotypical, devoid of richness, and lack any dimension. They both suffer from prolonged internal conflicts, and marital stress. The author waxes too verbose regarding marriage counseling and its’ benefits to Craig. At the same time, he portrays an unreal continued devotion of SJ to his dead spouse. Craig spends many pages coming to grips with his upbringing, but in such a way that you feel you are reading the notes of a psychologist, not hearing a real internal struggle. In turn, SJ thinks back to Vietnam and other stressors in his life with a similar clinical approach. Other than Wesley, SJ’s nephew, and a Jen, who we see briefly as a friend of Craig, the characters are sterile and not compelling.
I alternated between being entranced by the series of events and privations all of New Orleans faced, and trying not to throw the book in frustration because of the poor characterization.