Summary and book reviews of Nine Lives: Mystery, Magic, Death, and Life in New Orleans by Dan Baum

Nine Lives: Mystery, Magic, Death, and Life in New Orleans

by Dan Baum

Nine Lives: Mystery, Magic, Death, and Life in New Orleans
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  • Paperback:
    Feb 2010, 368 pages

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Book Summary

Nines Lives is a multivoiced biography of a dazzling, surreal, and imperiled city, told through the lives of nine unforgettable characters and bracketed by two epic storms.

Nines Lives is a multivoiced biography of a dazzling, surreal, and imperiled city, told through the lives of nine unforgettable characters and bracketed by two epic storms: Hurricane Betsy, which transformed New Orleans in the 1960s, and Hurricane Katrina, which nearly destroyed it. Dan Baum brings this kaleidoscopic portrait to life, showing us what was lost in the storm and what remains to be saved.

Deslonde street
1965

Ronald Lewis walked past one ruined cottage after another. Miss Hattie Guste's yellow bungalow with the gingerbread trim wore mildew like a three day stubble on a drunk man's chin. The Moseses' place seemed to have been dredged in slime like a piece of useless garbage. Miss Odette's immaculate cottage had become a spooky old hollowed-out skull. Miss Pie's swaybacked shotgun was knocked clean off its bricks so that the porch seemed to be kneeling in the mud. These were Ronald's sacred places, he now realized; he'd been in and out of these houses his whole life. Desecrated they were. Thoughtlessly trashed.

Ronald had seen bad luck before. Houses caught fire, men lost their jobs, children drowned in the canal. Each time, neighbors had given the stricken a bed for the night or a few dollars' help, offering strong backs and consolation. This time, though, bad luck had carried its bucket of bitterness through every house on every block, ladling an equal dose to all. How ...

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Reviews

Media Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Thomas Mallon

Aware of journalism's failure to reimagine New Orleans as it had been before the hurricane, Baum has written a splendid book that is two-thirds prologue. The winds and waters of Katrina don't begin battering the nine lives he puts on display until the reader is past Page 200, by which time his characters and their city have been realized in all their generosity and folly.

The Washington Post - Jason Berry

a spiritual saga strikingly different from [Baum's] magazine reporting. He says little about the political dynamics of Katrina and submerges his own voice as he weaves the experiences of nine New Orleans residents into a sinuous narrative. His technique brings to mind Robert Altman's film "Nashville," cutting between short scenes and longer vignettes from the lives of people who rarely intersect…I applaud Baum's shimmering portrait of the city. He adroitly moves his subjects through parades, prison, divorces, sex changes, fancy balls and gun brawls—yes, the stuff of life here—showing New Orleans as a magnetic, enduring force.

The New York Times - Dwight Garner

…at about Page 65, something very real clicks in Nine Lives. The small, stray, unobtrusive details that Mr. Baum has been planting along the way begin coming together and paying off, like a slot machine that's begun to glow and vibrate. By the final third of Nine Lives, as the water begins pouring into the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, I was weeping like an idiot in the coffee shop where I was reading…Nine Lives may be this young year's most artful and emotionally resonating nonfiction book so far, and for that, to Mr. Baum, a belated New Year's toast.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Baum's chronicle leaves readers with a bittersweet understanding of what Americans lost during Hurricane Katrina.

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