Urbani, Ellen. “Landfall”, Forest Avenue Press, 2015.
Has it already been ten years since Katrina? Time usually flies when you are having fun so quite naturally I find it hard to believe that time moved so quickly as I am still rebuilding after losing everything in the storm. But then again, had it not been for Katrina I might never have moved to Boston. I have tried to read everything that has been written about the hurricane, both fiction and nonfiction so I was very surprised to have missed Ellen Urbani’s “Landfall”.
The story is about two mothers and their teenage daughters, whose lives come together and collide in a fatal car crash. Set in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, eighteen-year-olds Rose and Rosebud have never met but “they share a birth year, a name, and a bloody pair of sneakers”. Rose is on a quest to atone for the accident that kills Rosebud, a young woman who was so much like herself aside from race. Rosebud has her own problem—she fights to survive in the terrible flooding in the Lower Ninth War of New Orleans as a result of Katrina and she needs to find help for her mother who is no longer stable. It is through these characters that show us that the dead are not gone forever and that what we think we know is not how something really is. Sometimes thinking causes blindness.
It is important to remember that the destruction caused Hurricane Katrina was not just physical. Families were torn asunder, lives were ruined, dreams were smashed and memories became difficult to deal with. I do not think that people have no idea of how terrible it was and those that do are the ones who were there what it happened. This is where writer Urbani’s wonderful and very careful research comes in. This was a difficult book for me emotionally because it brought so many memories that I had relegated to the back of my mind and suddenly I was reliving those terrible days but then again, had it not been for Katrina, who knows where I might have ended up.
The story comes to us from four different perspectives and moves back and forth over time. This was a wonderful choice by the author and although it sounds like this might lead to confusion, it does not. Almost right at the beginning we become aware of Rosy’s (Rosebud) tremendous courage and strength. She copes with her mother Cilla’s descent into manic depression and everything else that was going around her. When she goes to look for help and for her father’s family, the tragedy happens and everything changes.
Like Rosy, Rose shows strength especially when she is determined to find out whatever she can about Rosy. We have two girls with great similarities—they are the same age, share the same name and neither knew their father. However Rose is Caucasian while Rosy was African American. However, this not a novel about race and it is really only dealt with when we get to the makeshift shelter at the News Orleans Superdome and realize that the majority of the people were Black and these were those who did not have ways or means to evacuate. Urbani’s description of the Superdome is heartbreaking. Throughout the novel we read of the beauty of humanity as well as its ugliness. It is through Rosy that we learn about Katrina and I think that if I had to choose a single part of this book that really hit me, it would have to be reading about New Orleanians beginning to feel a sense of relief only to learn that the levees broke and the city was under water almost everywhere. It was at this point that Rosy and her mother began to look for shelter after having ridden out three days of rising water. It was then that they got to the Superdome and seeing the horror that was there. I must stress that regardless of what you might have seen on television, it comes to nowhere near the hell that was the Superdome. I was lucky enough not to get there but then I was stranded on the roof of my building for the National Guard to rescue me.
As I sit here and write this review I realize that as important a character as Hurricane Katrina is, this is not a book about the storm. Rather it is about the human spirit and the way we bounce back after terrible ordeals. We see that we really need to understand the world in which we live and make sense of it.
Let me give you a piece of advice. Before you begin to read “Landfall”, clear the rest of your day because this is not a book that reads well in sections but then again I doubt that anyone would read it that way. You will find it extremely difficult to stop reading once you have begun and what you read will stay with you for a long time after you close the covers. Urbani is a brave writer who does not hide from the issues and in this book she touches on them all—poverty, race, racism and the destruction of a great American city. She as also created unforgettable characters that come to a life in a plot that sweeps us away to another time and another place where good and evil coexisted side-by-side and the world watched helplessly from afar. Ellen Urbani really shows her skill in writing fiction that is based on fact and I feel honored to have read this amazing book.
The book also has a section with questions for discussion thus making it an ideal choice for book clubs. Just in case you want to read a bit more about the storm, there is a list of suggested readings.
Above all else is the gorgeous prose of the author in a story that tells us not to forget to look for hope even on the darkest of days.