Hurricane Katrina decimated–and united–the beautiful city of New Orleans. This much we know. Mayor Nagin issued a mandatory evacuation right before the storm, and many fled to the Superdome, which became a symbol of destruction and survival. It became a rallying cry. This much we know, especially if you watch football on Sundays.
But what we don’t know–what I didn’t know–was what happened to those who didn’t heed the warnings because of poverty, disability, family and faith.
THE NINTH WARD is that story, and Jewll Parker Rhodes couldn’t have told it more beautifully, more confidently, more magically.
Twelve year old Lanesha hears whispers, then rumors, then shouts about the impending storm, but her 82 year old guardian, Mamma Ya-Ya, doesn’t move–or see–so well. She’s half blind and fully stubborn about living out her final days in her house, instead of cramped against thousands in the Superdome. Mamma Ya-Ya rests her faith in God and ghosts, as does Lanesha, who longs so badly for her dead mother and that she sees her virtually everywhere.
But even ghosts can’t stop Katrina. Resigned to their fates, Lanesha and Mama Ya-Ya gather a few groceries and try to enjoy the awkward festivities in their neighborhood: barbeque cookouts, mojitos, margaritas.
The storm doesn’t just hit Lanesha’s house, it shakes it. Floods it. Uproots it. Lanesha is all alone in a bathtub. It’ll take a miracle for her to survive, but in the wake of the Katrina, all that’s left are a few miracles, a couple of lingering ghosts, and streets full of boats–makeshift, like Lanesha’s whole life.
The imagery of THE NINTH WARD will keep you turning the pages, as Jewell Parker Rhodes confidently paces this beautiful story of love, loss, and survival. You know the storm is coming, in much the same way that you know that the Titanic will sink, but you can’t look away. You can’t stop watching. You can’t get enough of THE NINTH WARD.
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