Friday, October 20, 2006

Pg. 69: "Breach of Faith"

Jed Horne, a city editor of the Times-Picayune, was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his part in the paper’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina.

His new book Breach of Faith: Hurricane Katrina and the Near Death of a Great American City was hailed by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David Oshinsky as "a splendid mix of reporting and commentary" that, of the major Katrina books, "provides a clearer sense of why things fell apart so completely in New Orleans."

I asked Jed to apply the "page 69 test" to his book. Here is what he reported:
America got a kind of helicopter-pilot's eye view of Katrina from news coverage at the time, amplified--not all that coherently--by the splutterings of various angry or tearful politicians and bureaucrats. Breach of Faith is a soap opera that gets into the heads of a couple dozen representative folks and tells what it was like to be the woman screaming from the rooftop as the whole house lifted up off the ground and floated away in snake-filled water, what it was like in the frenzy of the moment to be a 15-year-old wiseguy with a whole city full of stores to loot, what it was like to swim away from your flooded home, using a door for a kickboard, and to realize that everything you owned--50 rental units--was gone and your hard-won fortune wiped out, what it was like to be a doctor in a huge downtown hospital as patients and then the hospital itself began to fail and die. So, yes: page 69--which captures the actions of a sort of unwitting hero, a guy who gets himself tanked up on a little booze and then begins rescuing his neighbors--is representative of what I do throughout the book: tell the story of a national catastrophe through the nitty-griity experiences of people at ground zero. The book looks well beyond the storm and rescue to the sometimes equally botched recovery effort. But in the example of Stephen Ford and his pirogue, you get a glimpse of the resoluteness and gumption at the grassroots level that is New Orleans great strength--no matter how badly the politicians blow it.
Thanks to Jed for the input.

Click here to read an excerpt from Breach of Faith.

Click here to listen to Terry Gross' NPR interview with Horne, and here to listen to Jason Berry's NPR review of Breach of Faith, which Berry calls "the best of the Katrina books thus far."

"I'm astonished, frankly, that people who have lost so much and who have so little have been fighting to come back," Horne told Charlie Rose a year after Katrina, "and it attests to the charisma...the allure of New Orleans, the tenacity of the city." Click here to watch the interview.

Horne's previous book Desire Street: A True Story of Death and Deliverance in New Orleans was nominated for the 2006 Edgar Award for nonfiction crime writing.

Walter Isaacson, author of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life, was one of many readers who praised Desire Street:
Only in New Orleans could a true story like this read so much like a novel or have such an amazing cast of colorful characters. Jed Horne has produced a fascinating tale about a man accused of a murder that is more complex than it seems, and a system that almost railroaded him into the electric chair. Anyone who cares about race and the justice system must read it.
Previous "page 69 tests":
Robert Greer, The Fourth Perspective
David Plotz, The Genius Factory
Michael Allen Dymmoch, White Tiger
Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, Civilizing the Enemy
Tom Lutz, Doing Nothing
Libby Fischer Hellmann, A Shot To Die For
Nelson Algren, The Man With the Golden Arm
Bob Harris, Prisoner of Trebekistan
Elaine Flinn, Deadly Collection
Louise Welsh, The Bullet Trick
Gregg Hurwitz, Last Shot
Martha Powers, Death Angel
N.M. Kelby, Whale Season
Mario Acevedo, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats
Dominic Smith, The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre
Simon Blackburn, Lust
Linda L. Richards, Calculated Loss
Kevin Guilfoile, Cast of Shadows
Ronlyn Domingue, The Mercy of Thin Air
Shari Caudron, Who Are You People?
Marisha Pessl, Special Topics in Calamity Physics
John Sutherland, How to Read a Novel
Steven Miles, Oath Betrayed
Alan Brown, Audrey Hepburn's Neck
Richard Dawkins, The Ancestor's Tale

--Marshal Zeringue