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City of Refuge

really liked it 4.0  ·  Rating details ·  922 Ratings  ·  186 Reviews
In City of Refuge, a heart-wrenching novel from Tom Piazza, the author of the award-winning Why New Orleans Matters, two New Orleans families—one black and one white—confront Hurricane Katrina, a storm that will change the course of their lives. Reaching across America—from the neighborhoods of New Orleans to Texas, Chicago, and elsewhere—City of Refuge explores this turni ...more
Hardcover, 416 pages
Published August 19th 2008 by Harper (first published January 1st 2008)
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Will Byrnes
Sep 15, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is a fictionalized version of the Katrina experience for a handful of locals. Piazza begins by painting a picture of what life in the Big Easy was like for his characters prior to the disaster. This tells us a bit more of what was lost, or at risk, from an unforgiving mother nature, and an uninvolved government. He shows us details of the storm and it’s aftermath both physical and emotional, following the trail of his characters as they survive or not, leave or try, and confront decisions a ...more
Jessica Donohoe
Jul 30, 2008 rated it it was ok
This should be a classic.

It's halfway there; you can feel it on the very first page.
There you meet a rich panoply of players: one supporting, one tragic, and one, sort of, principal. That order of import is reflected in Piazza's writing style/s, as the book progresses: he starts out strong, and finds his flow again and again as he cruises along on the shoulders of his twinned stories' main drags: these are too brightly lit, and so signage saturated you can watch the characters worry that anoth
Jan 25, 2009 added it
It was almost like reliving the nightmare that was Katrina, all over again.
But a powerful look at the tough choices so many folks made during those days — or at least those who had choices.

On a side-note, if you're writing a story told against the backdrop of a real place and a real event, stick to truth. We all know that the "Gumbo" is really the "Gambit." And Rosies is really "Molly's."
And another thing — no one in New Orleans has a crawfish boil in August. That's just dumb, assuming you co
Dec 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
In a beautifully written illustration of very real stories, Tom Piazza has managed to draw an incredibly vivid picture of what it was like for two families living through and after the greatest man-made disaster this country has known. Make no mistake about it, this was a man-made and preventable disaster. New Orleans has weathered many storms, literally and metaphorically, and has survived. People have been screaming for years before Katrina that the levies weren’t suitable to handle these stor ...more
Dec 14, 2008 rated it really liked it
All of you who know me know about my Katrina experiences, and you know that for those of us who live in New Orleans, Katrina isn't over. It is a part of our daily existence. We talk about it every day and we describe our lives as "before the storm" and "after the storm." I own most of the books written about Katrina, but I began collecting books about my beloved city of New Orleans long before the deluge (and thankfully most of them survived). City of Refuge, by Tom Piazza, is a novel about two ...more
Nov 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lisa Hura
Aug 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing
You can read my full review on my blog.

City of Refuge is the story of two families in New Orleans, their love of the city and its culture, and the wrenching decisions they have to make in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. I am advising my dear friends in New Orleans not to read this book; for them, the pain is too close to the surface and some of those decisions are still being made. I am encouraging everyone else I know to read it ASAP.

I found myself quickly wrapped up in these people and their li
Mar 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
It's really hard for me to judge this novel specifically as a novel, because I can't get past the horrible reality behind it - namely, what happened in to/in New Orleans during/after Hurricane Katrina. I read much of this book in public in London - on the tube, in a coffee shop - and everyone must have thought I was totally deranged as tears were running down my face nearly the entire time. It's horrible to think what happened to the city and its people and what continues to happen today. And th ...more
Apr 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
I think anyone who visits New Orleans leaves feeling like they belong there. I personally think there is a bit of N.O. in everyone. After spending a month in the city this last year the city called my name and my wife and I seriously considered moving there. That's the primary reason I scooped up City of Refuge. I wanted to remember a bit of what I felt when I was there. It's a book about Katrina and how it affected two families from very different sides of the socioeconomic spectrum but it's al ...more
Aug 02, 2008 rated it really liked it
With 1,836 lives lost due to the hurricane and subsequent flooding, Hurricane Katrina was one of the five deadliest hurricanes in the history of the United States and the costliest in terms of property damage. City of Refuge is the story of how the hurricane affects two very different families living in New Orleans.

SJ Williams, his sister Lucy and her son Wesley were all born and raised in the Lower Ninth Ward. New Orleans is their place and they are proud to have made lives there. The widowed S
Linda Lipko
Oct 27, 2012 rated it really liked it
After reading many books regarding New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina, I think this is the best to date.

Written in novel form, the author obviously loves and understands the culture of New Orleans. Comparing and contrasting two families impacted by Katrina, the reader journeys to the lower ninth ward and the horror of those who could not flee, who, because of government ineptitude were stranded for days without food and water.

SJ Williams is a hard working family man. Living in the ninth ward for
Oct 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone who loves NOLA
I have only been to New Orleans twice, so a total of about 10 days of my life have been spent there, but there's just something about that city that gets under your fingernails and into your soul in a matter of minutes and never, ever leaves you. If you've been there then this book is a must read. If you haven't, you may not feel it as deeply as those who have visited will, but it's still a great book.

I can tell that the author was speaking from personal experience as he writes about the white
Jan 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is the first novel of this type I've read in a while. Straight-up story with third-person omniscient narrator, chronologically linear timeline, etc. I must be reading too much CanLit! It actually took me a while to get used to the style -- I kept looking for the angle, or the twist.

But the story sucked me in. Like everyone else I know, I read everything I could about Hurricane Katrina, including Joseph Boyden's articles in Maclean's, which were similar to the ones written by one of the char
Mar 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
Piazza tells the story of Hurricane Katrina partly in a journalistic style, and partly through the experiences of people who live through it. This adds a slightly sour meta note to the story, because one of the two main characters is a journalist writing about Hurricane Katrina. Other than that this is a moving story (how could it be otherwise) of New Orleans and various aspects of the people who lived through the devastation of the city . Piazza is one of the writers of the HBO series Treme, an ...more
Dec 09, 2008 rated it liked it
this was an interesting way to look at the happenings in NO after Katrina. It was about two different characters/families and what they went through. It encompases several of the circumstances that we heard about in Houston, (the NO Superdome, the Houston Astrodome, the flooding, the bridge, the people on the roof tops). I had a biased opinion of those who stayed behind, but changed my outlook after reading.
Mar 05, 2009 rated it really liked it
In the way that Piazza'a Why New Orleans Matters felt like a rushed attempt to list his favorite things should he never see them again in his fear he may forget, City of Refuge deepens the details. By following 2 families pre/post-Katrina you get a better feel for the flavor of the city. While it's considered fiction, it stems from pure fact and still helps you to appreciate the city.
Ann Mallory
Dec 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
As I was reading it reminded me very much of the HBO series Treme. No surprise to me to find that Piazza wrote a few of the episodes for that. He is able to capture the unique essence of New Orleans and the heartache, spirit and resilience of its people. It brought me to tears several times -sad and happy tears
Aug 01, 2009 rated it really liked it
Interesting, fictional portrayal of two families, one black, one white during Hurricane Katrina. The writing was descriptive and vivid and juxtaposition of the two families captured the tragedy of Katrina. I kept waiting for a bit more of a climax.
Feb 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
I have no idea how this book got onto my "to-read" list, but I'm glad it did. It does a good job of capturing the heartbreak of Katrina without making it smarmy - it focuses on the loss and heartbreak and difficult decisions made in the aftermath.
Apr 01, 2009 rated it it was amazing
This is just an incredible book. The characters are so beautifully drawn, and the city of New Orleans is so vivid. The storm just breaks your heart, and the aftermath, which is actually most of the book, is even more tragic. I think everyone should read this book.
Oct 12, 2008 rated it it was amazing
What an amazing view into life after Katrina...and beautifully written as well.
Kathryn Bundy
Jun 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is a fictional treatment of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. It follows two families, one black and one white, through the storm as their lives are upended and reconfigured. The idea is good; the execution is uneven. Having some familiarity with New Orleans post-Katrina, I appreciated the physical and cultural details that abounded. It was lovingly described and wrenchingly detailed.

The characters and their travails sometimes seemed predictable and facile. The female characters, in par
Jan 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I have read many books that cover various topics in relation to Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, but this one is different. City of Refuge let’s you get behind the scenes by way of deeply personal stories and experiences. It brings the soul of New Orleans alive in a tangible way through the eyes of those that love it. Not many books actually evoke raw emotion in me, but this one did. [side note: I’m probably biased bc I love New Orleans deeply] If you have any desire to understand what New O ...more
Mary Sue
Jun 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
This is the story of two families, one black, one white and their struggles after Hurricane Katrina and poorly maintained levees devastated New Orleans. One family drives out of town in one horrendous traffic jam. They bounce from one location to another experiencing bigotry and misunderstanding. The other family swims through filth and shelters at the NO dome, then Houston’s Astrodome. Both families struggle with the choice of returning or making a new home.
Jun 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
While this is a work of fiction, this is the true story of so many who endured Hurricane Katrina and dealt with the aftermath in their beloved New Orleans. I've read more than a couple books on this topic, and the skill with which Piazza balances the storm of emotions, brings the reader to the reality of the experience as much as we are able, is remarkable. It's not about race, it's not about politics, it's just about survival and the city that they call home.
Sep 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Fictionalized version of Hurricane Katrina and the levee breach that changed New Orleans forever. Good character development, very relatable. Author creates indelible images in the reader's mind of the horrors of the devastating flooding of the Crescent City. He touches on the politics, racism, governmental incompetence and profound human loss. As one who loves New Orleans, it was easy to picture the places described before and after Katrina. A definite good read.
Sep 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
The saddest most heart-wrenching book I've ever read. Yes, individual strength of character is celebrated in the midst of total disaster, a father making intolerable sacrifices for his family, a man adrift finding his way back home, such as it is, but the overarching saddness never leaves because this awful tragedy of epic proportions didn't have to happen. Piazza has written a masterpiece for the ages.
Sep 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very good story, but probably not the ideal choice for me to read while being bombarded by Hurricane Irma. Two New Orleans families, one black living in the Lower Ninth Ward, and one middle class white living in the Garden District, and how they coped with Katrina. Recommend for anyone who liked Isaac's Storm, The Johnstown Flood, or Zeitoun.
Aug 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Very moving, believable as the author follows the experiences of several families before and after hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Wonderful characterizations inside the minds of very different people, all of whom belong in the patchwork quilt that makes up that cosmopolitan city.
Lynn Bruggemann
Sep 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating look at the impact of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Never thought about the implications of evacuation in the community.
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Thousand Oaks Rea...: Has anyone read stories by Tom Piazza? 1 1 Jan 28, 2013 05:04AM  
GRL Review 1 13 Feb 07, 2009 02:03PM  
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“New Orleanians knew how to turn deprivation into an asset; they had the best gallows humor going, they danced at funerals, they insisted on prevailing.” 1 likes
“In New Orleans, on the other hand, geography and time, food, music, holidays, modes of dress and ways of speaking, are part of an integrated fabric. People dress in certain ways for certain events, and certain foods are eaten on certain days,” 1 likes
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