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Book Review on D'Ann R. Penner's and Keith C. Ferdinand's Overcoming Katrina: African American Voices from the Crescent City and Beyond
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In 2005, New Orleans was hit by Hurricane Katrina, resulting in mass destruction and deaths of many people. The shock that overwhelmed most of the U.S. states and the rest of the world after the hurricane could not be properly described by popular American media, such as CNN. The story of Hurricane Katrina has also been told in many literary works. However, there is no other book that describes Hurricane Katrina victims’ first hand experiences as painfully and plainly as Overcoming Katrina:African American Voices from the Crescent City and Beyond. Considering the book’s depth and popularity, this paper seeks to give a critical analysis to the monograph and its sources, uncover its main message and idea, and discuss the viewpoints of other scholars as for the source. Moreover, the review provides an excellent source of learning the history and culture of New Orleans through the true acknowledgment of the reality of Hurricane Katrina victims’ experiences.
Overcoming Katrina was edited by by D’Ann R. Penner and Keith C. Ferdinand and published in Oral Histories within the Palgrave Studies of Macmillan in 2009. According to Sharon Monteith, Dr. Penner received her PhD specializing in Russian history at the University of California. Her previous research projects touched famine in Ukraine and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Therefore, it might be surprising for many scholars that she decided to switch her research to writing a narrative about the Hurricane Katrina victims. The researcher stated that she could not witness such a dramatic event and tragedy in her own lifetime without documenting the events which had taken place in her own country.
Dr. Penner was assisted by Dr. Keith C. Ferdinand, a cardiovascular specialist, who was a displaced Hurricane Katrina victim from New Orleans in August 2005. In 1965, the Hurricane Betsy flooded his family home; thus, Hurricane Katrina was not the first disaster Dr. Ferdinand experienced. In 1968, he began to study at the Cornell University. In 1972 ntered the Howard University College of Medicine, where he received his PhD, specializing in internal medicine, cardiovascular disease, nuclear cardiology, and clinical hypertension. He was a successful doctor before the hurricane destroyed his Heartbeats Life Center and ruined his home. Certainly, he was interested in publishing the book about the Hurricane Katrina victims as he was one of them and wanted the voices of the victims to be heard. His own narration of his experience helped him to fight the post-Katrina depression and return to practicing medicine.
In general, Overcoming Katrina has twenty-seven oral histories of Hurricane Katrina survivors, whose age ranges from 20 to 90 years. These recorded interviews describe their personal life stories, post-Katrina mindset, and connections with New Orleans. The book begins with Jimmy Carter’s foreword, which is followed by the series of editors’ forewords. Moreover, there is also a preface and introduction provided by the authors. The narrations in the book are divided into four sections: “Retirees,” “At the Height of Their Careers,” “Thirty Something,” and “Coming of Age.” For each interviewee in the book, there is a small introduction and conclusion provided by the authors in italics. The endnotes that can be found in the narratives are used mostly to direct the reader to other printed sources on the related topics. The narratives stand on their own in order to avoid any kind of bias; thus, introduction, which offers reflections of other authors, is optional for a reader. Each narration is divided into several parts, depending on life experiences of the narrator. For example, the thirteenth narration of Charles W. Duplessis describes his life during and after the Hurricane Katrina, and gives only general information about his life in New Orleans before the disaster. By contrast, the narration of Dr. Keith Ferdinand mostly concentrates on his life in New Orleans before the Hurricane Katrina. The book ends with a conclusion and epilogue.
Substantially, most of the sources used in the monograph are primary. Besides the narrations, whiich are the main primary sources, the introduction and conclusion of the book rely on interviews of the survivors, media reports of CNN and Chicago Tribune, and scholarly journals, such as Journal of American History and Monthly Review.
The title Overcoming Katrina declares that the damage caused by Katrina will eventually be repaired. Certainly, not everything can be rebuilt or replaced. As a result of Katrina, most of the treasures and buildings were destroyed by the flood, but the disaster made people unite and help each other.
From the first pages, the book reveals the strength of the human spirit which faces violations of human rights, horrible property destructions, and the permanent scars left on the minds and hearts of the Hurricane Katrina victims. For instance, Leatrice Joy Reed Roberts tells about her experience of segregation and racial inequality during the Great Depression in the 1930s. Leonard Smith and Dr. Keith Ferdinand describe terrible property destructions in September 2005. Moreover, most of the Hurricane Katrina victims were seriously stressed and received health hazards, such as Rochelle Smith, who spent months on rehabilitation.
Hundreds of churches and social organizations offered housing, money, and support to the Hurricane Katrina survivors. For example, Eleanor Thornton tells about the assistance she and her family got from the Red Cross and Apostolic Church. Kevin Owens recalls that he was assisted by the Urban League, and Pete Stevenson mentions the McGukin Civic Center and Baptist Church. Without their assistance, consequences from the terrible event could have been much worse. Many of the Hurricane Katrina victims, such as Eleanor Thornton and Pete Stevenson were surprised by the generosity and assistance of people who helped them and encourage them not to lose faith. As such, faith runs particularly strong through the book. It was the force that provided the needed stability and comfort during the hurricane and after it, as well as the reason of the survivors’ intention to change their lives and their city when the disaster was over.
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