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Down in New Orleans

Reflections from a Drowned City

Billy Sothern (Author), Nikki Page (Photographer)


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“Post-Katrina New Orleans hasn't been an easy place to live, it hasn't been an easy place to be in love, it hasn't been an easy place to take care of yourself or see the bright side of things.” So reflects Billy Sothern in this riveting and unforgettable insider's chronicle of the epic 2005 disaster and the year that followed. Sothern, a death penalty lawyer who with his wife, photographer Nikki Page, arrived in the Crescent City four years ahead of Katrina, delivers a haunting, personal, and quintessentially American story. Writing with an idealist's passion, a journalist's eye for detail, and a lawyer's attention to injustice, Sothern recounts their struggle to come to terms with the enormity of the apocalyptic scenario they managed to live through. He guides the reader on a journey through post-Katrina New Orleans and an array of indelible images: prisoners abandoned in their cells with waters rising, a longtime New Orleans resident of Middle Eastern descent unfairly imprisoned in the days following the hurricane, trailer-bound New Orleanians struggling to make ends meet but celebrating with abandon during Mardi Gras, Latino construction workers living in their trucks. As a lawyer-activist who has devoted his life to procuring justice for some of society's most disenfranchised citizens, Sothern offers a powerful vision of what Katrina has meant to New Orleans and what it still means to the nation at large.

I. Heading Straight for Us: The Days before and after Hurricane Katrina
1. A Man Leaves Home
2. A Stranger Comes to Town
3. "This Blues is Just Too Big"

II. This Could Be Anywhere: Katrina’s Immediate Aftermath, Late Summer 2006
4. A Dollar Short
5. Poor, Nasey, Brutish, and Short
6. Not in My Backyard
7. Left to Die
8. Bring the War Home
9. The Dry Run of the Apocalypse
10. History Repeats Itself

III. Personals: Departures and Homecomings
11. Going Home
12. Oxford Town
13. I Do Believe I've Had Enough
14. Everyday Reminders

IV. Against the Ropes: New Orleans’s Unlikely Recovery
15. Second Line
16. Gideon's Blues
17. Live from the Circle Bar
18. Corporate Limits
19. Fat Tuesday
20. Hard Lot
21. La Neuva Orleans
22. Yours in Struggle
23. In the Parish
24. Not Resigned
25. Epitaph

Billy Sothern is a staff attorney at the Capital Appeals Project and codirector of Reprieve (US), which is based in New Orleans. He is a graduate of New York University School of Law and has written for The Nation, the New York Times, and Salon, among other publications. Nikki Page is a photographer, painter, and art teacher living in New Orleans.
“A necessary reminder that the problems that led to Katrina still exist, and until race and poverty are addressed, nothing will change.”—E! The Environmental Magazine
Sothern's book is a smack to the head, forcing readers to confront not only what isn't happening in New Orleans, but also what's wrong in our backyards.—Arkansas Democrat Gazette
Focuses on New Orleans stories that have been largely overlooked by the mainstream press. Everyone saw the chaos at the Superdome, but Sothern talks to people who were there, and refutes count by count the many crimes reported to have occurred inside it. He eloquently and angrily shows how devastatingly easy it can be for those in power to cast aside the rule of law our society relies on. In outrage he recalls how the prisoners in New Orleans’ jail—most of whom had yet to be tried, let alone convicted—had to break open their cell doors to swim to safety. He follows the story of residents suddenly arrested as suspected terrorists and held for weeks with no family contact. Sothern’s own story of escape and return adds a personal facet to a Katrina book that looks not to the destruction wrought by the storm, but to that caused by the suspension of rights by those in charge of a great American city now truly in ruins.”—Booklist
“Explore (s) the surreal split in a city, full of dark humor, searching for a new identity. . . . He celebrates the rich artistic culture while denouncing the vast sociopolitical inequities. . . . Trains a wise lens on the city's deepest divisions.”—Chicago Tribune
“Offers an elegant, deeply-felt account of the struggle and the human spirit, a tribute to the city he still calls home.”—Contribute New York
“Sothern's personal portrait of a city with a troubled past, an uncertain future and a sometimes joyous, always complicated present. What Sothern does in this book is something quite extraordinary: Not only does he parse the city's pre and post-Katrina social problems with a lawyer's sense of orderly construction, he helps readers to fall in love with New Orleans all over again. . . . "Down in New Orleans" is where we all are, isn't it? Reading this book, you know that you're in the presence of a true New Orleanian, fierce in his passion for his adopted home. Sothern gives voice to so much in this fine book -- our celebration, our mourning, our hard work, our endurance, and, in the midst of so much despair, our ability to find mad joy in the city streets. Sothern seems to be saying, "Bring it on." He's been here for five years, he says in his introduction, and "No one asks me anymore when I am coming home to New York." It's courage for us all.”—New Orleans Times-Picayune
“It is his infectious desire to understand the context-both the immediate context and the historical-of all that is rotten in his adopted city that propels this book. “—San Francisco Chronicle
A powerful account of just how simultaneously despairing and inspiring life can be in post-Katrina New Orleans.—The Guardian
"Billy Sothern's Down in New Orleans illustrates, in very human and heartbreaking ways, how the horrors that emerged during and following Hurricane Katrina existed long before the storm. These beautifully composed stories not only reveal the dignity—and amazing grit and grace—of the hurricane's survivors; they also illuminate larger truths about the urgent issues of our day. Sothern magnifies the urgency of creating a government that really serves the common good—and a society that protects its poor and vulnerable."—Katrina vanden Heuvel, Editor & Publisher, The Nation

"Billy Sothern is the only writer in the world who can simultaneously convince you that the forsaking of New Orleans is so much worse than you thought it was, and also that you should move there immediately. The smartest, most in-love-with-the-world book yet written about New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina."—Rachel Maddow, host of "Air America Radio"

"As much as Down in New Orleans is a damning account of everything that went wrong after Katrina struck, it's also a deeply soulful and eloquent tribute—part paean and part eulogy—to a place [Sothern] loves almost despite himself. It's essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the past, present and future of this indispensable city."—Dave Eggers

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