Hurricanes: not fiction

“There’s some redemption here,” Amanda Boyden said last Tuesday at a 57th Street Books reading. She was talking about her latest novel, Babylon Rolling (Pantheon). “All these characters are terribly flawed, but I like to think they have gigantic hearts.” She read from four sections of the book, which follows the residents of one New Orleans street in the year leading up to Hurricane Katrina. The street, which really exists though she moved it across town for the novel, is a microcosm of the city with “lots of different kinds of people jumbled together...messed up kids next to crazy old ladies, beautiful old mansions next to shacks falling apart.”


One of the characters, Boyden acknowledged when prompted by an audience member, is loosely based on herself. Boyden moved from Chicago—which she considers her other home—to New Orleans and had lived there with her husband for 15 years
when Katrina hit in 2005. "We had to evacuate to Toronto," she said, and “we didn’t know if we’d ever be in New Orleans again." She calls the book her “tribute” to the hurricane.

“This time we did a much better job evacuating,” said Boyden, whose scheduled Tuesday reading in Miami was canceled because of Hurricane Ike. “We went to Baton Rouge during Gustav and evacuated right into the eye of the storm.” The home they left was a converted corner grocery store that she and her husband bought after Katrina. The tallest building on the block, it lost its roof to Hurricane Gustav. The new roof went up, she said, just in time for the next round of bad weather.

Boyden spoke about her characters as though they were real, and her face registered their emotions as she read. Apologizing when she got to the section narrated by a 15-year-old African American child, she implored her audience to “imagine a boy.” Her eyebrows raised in another section as the fictional Northerner asked a neighbor, “Is there an expression I’m supposed to know before a hurricane? Like, I’ll see you when the wind blows back?” There isn’t.

Shira Tevah, '09

Boyden reads from her latest novel at 57th Street Books.

September 22, 2008