Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Joshua Clark's "Heart Like Water"

Joshua Clark, founder of Light of New Orleans Publishing, edited Louisiana in Words, French Quarter Fiction, and other books, and his writing and photographs appear in many newspapers and magazines. He covered New Orleans in Katrina's aftermath for and National Public Radio.

He applied the "Page 99 Test" to his new book, Heart Like Water: Surviving Katrina and Life in its Disaster Zone, and reported the following:
Ford was dead on. I’m looking here at page 99 of my memoir Heart Like Water: Surviving Katrina and Life in its Disaster Zone, and it drives home one of the major themes. The book is about my personal experiences laced through the many oral histories I recorded starting the day before the storm, and continuing through the two months after. It includes not only the courage, camaraderie, and insanity of the French Quarter holdouts who never left, but residents all over the city, as well as every outerlying region the storm affected, as those residents returned to their homes for the first time. The page begins when the military was forcefully evacuating the remaining citizens a week after Katrina:

And when they did drag us out of here at the tip of a gun and throw us on a bus out of town, we made a pact that we’d simply get out at the first rest stop, and start walking back. Likely that would be Baton Rouge. We estimated that at three miles an hour, it would only take about 27 hours.

This was our home. And no one was going to make us leave it. One thing staying through the storm’s aftermath taught me is that our home was not contingent on running water and electricity. She (New Orleans) took care of us who stayed, those few of us that depended on her and not her government. Heart Like Water is about this, about her feeding us, bathing us, moving us with music and light when it was most needed, and above all, keeping a smile on our dirty faces when laughter was the only available bandage. We were subsisting on the only thing we had left: our culture, which has always put a smile on the face of death.

On that note, my girlfriend Katherine and I dealt with the disaster very differently. Her reaction was perhaps more realistic than mine. While Katrina’s aftermath tore our city apart, we held together, and as our city mended itself and its levees, we felt like we might break apart. It was tough, some of Heart Like Water is about choosing between the city you love and the person you love. Page 99 ends,

“You know, this city, our home, I feel like Katherine’s crying for it, and me, I’m smiling, trying to smile for it,” I said.

“We need both right now,” said Ty.

“And it’s like we’re standing on these opposite cliffs and we’re all pissed and disappointed at each other’s reaction to this thing, appalled even, we each think the other’s pathetic, and there’s New Orleans busted in the abyss between us.”
Read more about Heart Like Water.

--Marshal Zeringue