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The Sound of Building Coffins

3.94  ·  Rating Details ·  340 Ratings  ·  71 Reviews
Meticulously-drawn in lyrical prose, this tale of death and rebirth, devastation and redemption, will draw you into a world of beauty and pain, as alluring as it is dangerous.
Hardcover, 358 pages
Published February 1st 2009 by Toby Press
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May 17, 2009 karen rated it really liked it
voodoo, jazz, rabid dogs, con artists, abortions turning into catfish. you know, the usual...
there are some really fantastic scenes in this book, and i already want to reread it for clarity on a couple of points, but life is short and i must move on for now. but this gets put in the mental file of "worth rereading". so its gotta be worth reading once for all of youse.
Charlane Brady
Apr 27, 2009 Charlane Brady rated it it was amazing
The Sound of Building Coffins is unlike any other novel I have ever read and, as another reviewer wrote, it is difficult to summarize.

Louis Maistros took me for an unexpected ride. He is unique. There is no question about it. A few times I had to slow down so not to lose my stomach and a few times I had to pause, close my eyes and take things in.

I finished the ride about a month ago and I am still taking it in. I am still thinking of the characters and their stories…still thinking of the "shoe
Marc Hall
Feb 05, 2009 Marc Hall rated it it was amazing
I've just finished Book 1, and thus far it is amazing. Wildly inventive, richly poetic, and utterly fascinating. I am resisting the compulsion to gulp it down quickly, because I know I will be heartbroken when there are no pages left to turn.


Having completed the book, I can say that it does not disappoint. It remains tragic, hope-filled, magical, and rich as New Orleans itself. I am looking forward to the author's next work.
Julie Failla Earhart
Dec 01, 2008 Julie Failla Earhart rated it it was amazing
First time novelist Louis Maistros had been a long time resident of New Orleans 8th Ward. With his debut, The Sound of Building Coffins, he proves that not everyone in the Crescent City is down and out.
The story opens in 1891. Nine-year-old Typhus Morningstar has a gift; an understanding his father calls it. He returns aborted fetuses to the river, and, with tender strokes, turns the bloody corpses into small catfish. So sets the stage for this literary fiction/magic realism tale that reads as
Sep 05, 2011 Jason rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-2011

3.5 Stars

 This is an extremely hard to classify book. It is a combination of a horror novel, a historical fiction novel, a surreal fantasy, and a character study. While there is a great deal to enjoy about this unusual read, it is not an easy ride.

One thing that really worked well was the overall dark and dirty 1800's New Orleans feel that permeates through out this book. Maestros has created the feel of New Orleans down to the finest detail. The book feels like it is straight out of the old bay
Sean Poole
Dec 10, 2009 Sean Poole rated it it was amazing
Lyrical, melodic and magical. Louis Maistros breathes life into the most amazing cast of characters since Katherine Dunn's 'Geek Love'. The opening lines play like an operatic overture setting the stage and drawing the reader into the gaslit world of Jazz and Voodoo in turn of the century New Orleans. This is a superbly crafted, eminently satisfying novel, well worth the read.
Edward Branley
What a delightful read! Set at the turn of the 19th-20th centuries in New Orleans, Louis has done a great job conveying life in Storyville/Treme at the time. Street con artists, prostitutes, bartenders, and other denizens of backatown all come to life and are engaging. The esoteric/spiritual aspects of the story are, as one would expect, nay, as one should demand from a story about New Orleans, are fantastic. The author weaves Catholicism, black spiritualism, Voudon, and practical life in New Or ...more
Feb 07, 2015 Wendy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Sound of Building Coffins

Louis Maistros has written the best book that I have ever read. "Very Powerful", I'm at a loss for words. I will never forget this book. This book is one of the reasons I love my beautiful strange city of New Orleans so very much.
Apr 28, 2009 Mary rated it it was amazing
This just may be my new favorite book. Beautifully written and almost impossible to put down! Louis Maistros has written a totally engaging novel unlike anything else I've read...except maybe 100 Years of Solitude. I look forward to more from this writer.
May 27, 2009 Sammy rated it it was amazing
A perfect New Orleans story. Vibrant, loud, disastrous--in turns obscene and sacred. It's like Maistros tapped directly into the soul of the city to find the characters to inhabit this book.
Mar 12, 2010 Laren is currently reading it
I recently started reading this first novel...Strong voice. Compelling. Graceful. And creepy/weird in the best way. Stay tuned for a full review when I finish.
Jun 08, 2014 Bert rated it it was amazing
This is a very unique and powerful novel, set in New Orleans starting in the late 1800's. The main characters are the members of the Morningstar family, mixed-race poor people living on the wrong side of the tracks. Their hardscrabble existence is exacerbated by the invisible burdens imposed by racism. Success is elusive, and what passes for success is not defined by standards set out in Harlequin Romance novels. Girls are drawn into prostitution, men are gamblers, grifters, or grave diggers. Th ...more
Mar 08, 2009 Bradley rated it it was amazing
delightfully surreal and engrossing turn-of-the-century tale set in old new orleans-historically sound and culturally true to the roots and lore of new orleans, a very surprising and heartbreaking tale of loss and renewal. it is probably safe to say that any new orleans tale involving voodoo(vodou in this case) can border on cliche at best, but in the context of coffins, it is merely a small but significant means to an end. the morningstar family and their various friends, neighbors and associat ...more
Matt Lee Sharp
Jul 31, 2013 Matt Lee Sharp rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
From the opening chapter I knew this was a book that I'd need to take my time with. Every character is burdened with a weight they never asked for. Even the city is bloated with the dead. Some of the imagery is unsettling, but I found the less incredible the fiction, the more uncomfortable I felt. The only refuge in the book is found in the magical elements. The human drama was brutal. This is not a book for everyone. It wraps a little too tidily. It tries a little hard to be shocking. But I've ...more
Brad Lucht
Nov 15, 2014 Brad Lucht rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It is hard to describe this book. It is a story of voodoo and spirits and peoples lives in early New Orleans, around the turn of the 20th century.

As a reader I was drawn into the story, deeply. I felt involved; the author did a remarkable job describing the location and characters. I could *feel* the atmosphere.

Very well written, in an original voice. Recommended.
Jan 16, 2016 Nancy rated it really liked it
Atmospheric. Bizarre and kinda freaky, but it takes place in late 19th Century New Orleans, so I expected nothing less. Voodoo, magical realism, even a little humor sprinkled in here and there, with characters that I really liked. I'm glad I finally read this - it's been on my TBR pile for years.
Jan 06, 2017 Kate rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating novel of New Orleans Storyville and Treme sections set in the late 1800's and early 1900's. The mix of characters is fabulous, the men, women and children of this work speak to us from a hard past and hopeful future. Written in a stream of conscious style, sometimes you lose reality or come bumping into it full force. The language is beautiful. The characters memorable. It reads slowly because of the movement from reality to fantasy to dreams. Worth the read. Reminded me a bit of Bul ...more
May 07, 2016 Kirk rated it really liked it
I picked up The Sound of Building Coffins after seeing it suggested in the comments section of a Guardian article about noteworthy books involving New Orleans. I’ve already read and enjoyed A Confederacy of Dunces, and Maistro’s book beat Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer in the mail, so I started it right away in preparation for a trip I’m taking to New Orleans at the end of the month.

The Sound of Building Coffins is as ambitious as it is macabre, which is to be expected for a book about a New Orle
Jan 21, 2011 Kelly rated it liked it
I don’t know if I can adequately review this book. It was one of the most unique books I’ve ever read and after reading other reviewers, it seems we all agree on that point. I sort of went from the fryer into the frying pan with this book. The last book I read, March, was also historical fiction and I swore I wouldn't read another one. But here it is and I did.

The book starts out in the late 1800’s with some extremely exotic characters. Rev. Noonday Morningstar has named his children after disea
Feb 23, 2010 trickgnosis rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, new-orleans
Sweet Jesus. I can't think of another book to compare this to, so I'll call it unique. Others might say deeply strange. Unsettling even. But regardless, if you love New Orleans and its history and culture you need to read it. God, evil, death, voodoo, the birth of jazz: there's so much going on here that the story overflows its banks. Hang on, ride it out and pay attention. And if you don't recognize everything that's going on here, it's worth your while to do some research, because while the li ...more
Apr 15, 2009 Jenny rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this dark novel very much; even as I was afraid of what would happen next, I could not resist its pull. I was completely stunned at the end to find the author had no formal training in the craft of writing. The beauty of the writing and well-paced unfolding of the story (not too rushed at all, but not plodding) only proves this guy is quite gifted--and living in a town full of stories, story-tellers, and history, he was educated on the fly, I suppose. He clearly respects his subjects a ...more
Sep 30, 2014 Jennifer rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is so well written, you can feel the words wrap themselves around you like the mists off the Mississippi River, and envelop you in a bittersweet tale of life and death in New Orleans. Evocative and heavy with the flavours of New Orleans, love, hate, music, and that old black magic, it keeps the reader in its spell with a tale of family life in the city that fascinates us all. That which elsewhere would be considered depressing, weird and ugly seem to be accepted in the streets of New O ...more
Alice Meloy
Aug 09, 2009 Alice Meloy rated it really liked it
Maistros paints a vivid but dark picture of the seamier side of late 19th and early 20th century New Orleans, where voodoo curses and the ghosts that inhabit the river intermingle with reality. Nine years after their father was killed, apparently by a demon, the Morningstar siblings continue to suffer from a variety of woes, some of which are related to their socio-economic status and others to a fifty-year old curse. Typhus works for an abortionist, Diphtheria has become a prostitute, Dropsy is ...more
Sep 02, 2011 Blaise rated it really liked it
Reading this book was like eating pebbles. It started off harsh but it got heavier and heavier with every gulp. It is beautiful. It is horrible. It is what Faulkner only dreamed of being. And yet...And yet... I hate the last 2% of the book. Spoilers from here on out*

If only it ended with Markus Nobody Special melting into Maria's grave during the hurricane this would have been epic. But no, it had to try to salvage a happy ending. This destroyed the entire flow of the story (and the Markus cha
May 18, 2010 Sonia rated it really liked it
I enjoyed The Sound of Building Coffins, but I felt that it started much more strongly than it ended. There was almost a sense that all loose ends were a bit too tidily addressed and while alternately, I don't enjoy cliff hangers, I wasn't left with any lingering sense of mystery or wonder.

At times it felt as if Maistros pursued too many story lines and that the overall plot could have benefited from a little editing.

The writing, particularly for a debut novel and novice writer, was stunning an
Dec 27, 2010 Odd_bloke rated it really liked it
Shelves: coventry
The Sound of Building Coffins is, in some respects, like the Mississippi river that flows through its pages. It is turbulent and muddy whilst being powerful and beautiful. It tells a number of stories, all of which flow into the novel at various points, adding to and changing those that have come before them.[return][return]I was somewhat uncomfortable with the magical realism of the book to begin with. I guess that part of this was to do with not having a firm understanding of what 'magical rea ...more
Feb 17, 2009 Jennifer rated it liked it
Wow! I'm still not sure what to make of this one. I both loved and hated it.

It's a magical realism book - so if you aren't into miracles, the supernatural, etc., this probably won't be your thing.

I found it absorbing though. The magic (fetuses into catfish, hands into hearts, spirits, and voodoo) only seemed to add to the symbolism and the use of water as a form of rebirth throughout the book.

However, the chapters on music, I have to admit I just didn't get and found overbearing.

The story was gr
Jan 23, 2012 Greg rated it liked it
A quick read. Struggling to find stuff to read right now and found this. An interesting dive into late 1800's New Orleans. Well written historical fiction with well-placed dashes of fantasy.

Sometimes I'm uncomfortable reading a book when I can't pin down what the author is doing. It keeps me from having my own experience with the story. I read the book in a day and enjoyed it, but didn't feel like I got much more out of it. The characters were interesting, but I was too caught up in what the aut
Jamie McMahan
Oct 10, 2012 Jamie McMahan rated it really liked it
This novel is certainly a worthy read. Perhaps the best way I can describe it and pay it its due is to say it is one of the weirdest, most wonderful stories I've read in quite awhile. It has many interesting themes all combined in a wonderful concoction very similar to the culture of the city in which the novel is set. The plot concerns a motley group of characters journeying to adulthood with a heavy dose of magical realism revolving around a story of murder, supernatural possession, and the in ...more
Sep 17, 2009 Ellen rated it really liked it
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“Real truth is common knowledge in the world of living men. Men only get to asking about it when they have a hard time accepting what they already know.” 1 likes
“Starting over is a funny thing. You only get one true start, on the day you are born. But as we get older and know better about the lives we’ve lived, every once in awhile we try to make ourselves a new beginning. Problem is that you can’t erase where you come from, the accumulation of your experience being undeniably who you are.  Ain’t no one can be rebirthed out of a past that has come to define them, no matter if these things come by chance or design. You can only pretend to start again; never to forget, try as you might.” 1 likes
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