Dan Baum's terrific new book, "Nine Lives," traces nine New Orleanians from Hurricane Betsy in 1965 through Katrina in 2005. What emerges is a portrait of an entire city in all its quirky, backward beauty. Baum spoke with NEWSWEEK's Adam B. Kushner.
How did you persuade your subjects—the trumpet-playing city coroner, the transsexual Jesuit bar owner—to trust you?
More often, it was how to get them to stop telling their stories.
Are you optimistic for the city?
Eternally. It's been there an awfully long time.
Will Katrina someday be as distant a memory as Betsy?
Of course. It's not as though New Orleanians have talked about nothing but Hurricane Betsy for the past 44 years.
With one exception, all your characters are good people.
I had two principles: no villains, and all happy endings.
But that's not the story of New Orleans.
It is a story of New Orleans. When I started writing this, there were plenty of grim things to say about New Orleans. It's a rough place. F–––ed up beyond belief. What I wanted to communicate was: get past all those images of the floods and the ruined houses. This is my telling of the New Orleans story, because I love the place.