Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans Written and Illustrated by Don Brown

[Review Copy Courtesy of My Public Library.]

Drowned City

Drowned City is a multi-award winning graphic novel by acclaimed and prolific author and artist Don Brown. It is an extraordinarily vivid account of Hurricane Katrina from August to October 2005 written for ages 12 to adult.

You need to read Drowned City if you haven’t already. It is an important book. Its commentary and representation of what happened during Hurricane Katrina is insightful, enlightening, and will help those of us that haven’t lived through a major natural disaster gain perspective on an entirely new level.

The way Don Brown uses quotes from those who went through it and how he describes smells and the heat people experienced gives the book an unforgettable and almost tangible dimension for the reader.

“The sewers … all back up and we [are] down there in the stifling heat and this odor [is] horrendous… we [are] just in there smothering.”

Drowned City will help you understand in a different light what is now going on with disasters and recovery around the world. You’ll feel bewildered at each instance of failure in evacuating people and gutted at how others failed to respond. You’ll ask hard questions of yourself. You’ll find yourself debating how you would have liked to respond versus how you may have likely responded in the same situation. It helps you see a bit of where, how, and why disaster recovery is complicated and the difficult logistics of recovery – both short and long-term. It illustrates how unprepared we were and how we can and must improve. It staggeringly and piercingly illustrates systematic racism.

The pen and ink illustrations with muted browns and grays along with the matter-of-fact narrative interspersed with first person quotes draws in its readers. Drowned City brings its readers as personal of an experience of what it was like to be caught during and immediately after Hurricane Katrina as a book can possibly do.

The age range for the book is 12 to 17 and yet there were many children who lived through this — they didn’t have that luxury of being spared because they were children. This realization made me grieve for those children that had to go through it and especially for those adults who couldn’t spare them from it.

My father lived through Hurricane Rita and worked in disaster recovery for both Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Katrina. Watching how the hurricane changed him, his community, and other family friends has been beyond unsettling and at times devastating. He still seems plagued by guilt that he wasn’t hit while those around him where. You’d assume people would be grateful that they were spared, but it doesn’t seem to be that simple.

After reading Drowned City, I started to get a small idea of why he would randomly cry and bring up the hurricanes years and years after they happened. For those that only saw it through screens and distance, it is difficult to get your head around the intensity, chaos, and sustained upending of normalcy that people went through. Drowned City makes you begin to realize how little you really know about what people go through during and after natural disasters.

On an uplifting note, Drowned City excellently portrays and demonstrates how unlikely people are called to help and that answering that call to the best of your ability is what makes a hero. You will come away with a new appreciation of the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and their officers and the Coast Guard. You’ll be stunned by the bravery of so many who came to help during Katrina and how many continue to help with our current hurricane disaster recoveries.

I did not want to put the book down until I finished every last page. It is a riveting read that gives a personal and intimate look at what people went through in New Orleans. It is getting a lot of attention and awards, but really, it cannot get enough. This book has been lingering with me for weeks now as we follow the news of natural disaster after natural disaster after natural disaster.

It is devastating and overwhelming to realize there will be more major natural disasters, but reading Drowned City is a small but important step to gaining more understanding, empathy, and perspective. It will help you see how much more we have to do to prepare for these future disasters, see the urgency in doing what we can to prevent them, and have a tremendous amount of compassion and respect for those that are victims and those working so hard to help.

Where to Get it:

Author/Artist Websites:

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Where Obtained:  I received a review copy from my fantastic library. No other compensation was received.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

FTC Disclosures:  Some of the links in the post above are Amazon affiliate links. If you click on the link and purchase something, I will receive an affiliate commission at no additional cost to you. Which goes to fund my family’s picture book habit.  It’s a vicious cycle, but we manage.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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