The Englewood Review of Books
Best Books of 2019
Advent / Christmas Calendar
Hardback: Grove Press, 2019
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The Yellow House’s destruction, first by the flood and then by the city’s demolition of what remained, and the subsequent diaspora of her family, left Broom with an aching sense of absence. To confront this, she inserted herself more fully into the fabric of the book. As a teenager, she took two unreliable city buses from New Orleans East to the French Quarter to her job as a barista. As a successful adult, Broom returned to the city’s most historic district, a space that depends on the African American service workers who often cannot afford to live within its boundaries. Once behind the counter, Broom was now the local.
She sought to upend the conventional wisdom about this tourist-heavy area at the port of New Orleans, once a site of slave trading but now a fantasy that thrives on hedonistic behavior, southern charm, and decadence. “I’m always trying to make it about me in the French Quarter, about the interactions I’m having and how I’m seeing it specifically so I could turn these very trotted-out ideas on their head,” she told me. “If you’re trying to sort of examine the underbelly of something, you have to be able to move with the discovery and be malleable, so to speak.”
Living in the French Quarter placed Broom squarely in the city’s mythological and cultural heart. Moving from the periphery to the city center, Broom laid claim to a place that she was always made to feel was out of her reach. Too often geographic displacement narrows the comprehensive record of a place, privileging certain people with the final word on what is deemed history. Broom had to return to the city’s gem, home to its greatest pleasures and its greatest shame, to write a story that would reconcile her losses with the losses of others. She expanded the collective understanding of American history in the process.
- from Lauren LeBlanc’s
review of this memoir for The Atlantic
WATCH a PBS interview with the author about this book…