My rating: 4 of 5 stars
As dark and disturbing as Katrina herself, THE FLOATING WORLD takes readers into the most damaged neighborhoods of New Orleans, both during and after the epic storm, in this story of family, race and a city in crisis.
Thanks to Algonquin Books for the review copy of this title.
A dazzling debut about family, home, and grief, The Floating World takes readers into the heart of Hurricane Katrina with the story of the Boisdorés, whose roots stretch back nearly to the foundation of New Orleans. Though the storm is fast approaching the Louisiana coast, Cora, the family’s fragile elder daughter, refuses to leave the city, forcing her parents, Joe Boisdoré, an artist descended from a freed slave who became one of the city’s preeminent furniture makers, and his white “Uptown” wife, Dr. Tess Eshleman, to evacuate without her, setting off a chain of events that leaves their marriage in shambles and Cora catatonic–the victim or perpetrator of some violence mysterious even to herself.
This mystery is at the center of C. Morgan Babst’s haunting, lyrical novel. Cora’s sister, Del, returns to New Orleans from the life she has tried to build in New York City to find her hometown in ruins and her family deeply alienated from one another. As Del attempts to figure out what happened to her sister, she must also reckon with the racial history of the city, and the trauma of destruction that was not, in fact, some random act of God, but an avoidable tragedy visited upon New Orleans’s most helpless and forgotten citizens.
The Floating World is the Katrina story that needed to be told–one with a piercing, unforgettable loveliness and a nuanced understanding of this particular place and its tangled past, written by a New Orleans native who herself says that after Katrina, “if you were blind, suddenly you saw.”
This book is not an easy read. It’s not a page turner or a nail biter. It’s not a story of a strong New Orleans rising after a devastating storm and it’s not a story of a family coming together in a time of need. It’s a fiercely honest account of a family going through tortured times, both emotional and environmental. It’s a story of hearts breaking and a city sinking and the absolute worst that people can do. As you read, you are trapped in the brains of humans who are suffering, both in typical ways and in ways brought about by mental illness and dementia.
But. But. You also experience the depths of the human condition and the brutal racial divide in the city. You learn about the horrors of a storm most of us haven’t experienced firsthand, and to understand is to empathize.
Is this happy? No. Is it important? Yes.
If you like dark, ruminative stories about complex social issues, this one’s for you. If you’re looking for a light, fast-paced adventure story about surviving a hurricane, this will definitely surprise you with its slow and meandering nature and psychological focus.