Heart Like Water: Surviving Katrina and Life in Its Disaster Zone


Try it. Right now. Picture the lights going off in the room you?re sitting in. The computer, the air conditioning, phones, everything. Then the people, every last person in your building, on the street outside, the entire neighborhood, vanished. With them go all noises: chitchat, coughs, cars, and that wordless, almost impalpable hum of a city. And animals: no dogs, no birds, not even a cricket?s legs rubbing together, not even a smell. Now bump it up to 95 degrees. Turn your radio on and listen to 80 percent of ...

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Heart Like Water: Surviving Katrina and Life in Its Disaster Zone

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Try it. Right now. Picture the lights going off in the room you’re sitting in. The computer, the air conditioning, phones, everything. Then the people, every last person in your building, on the street outside, the entire neighborhood, vanished. With them go all noises: chitchat, coughs, cars, and that wordless, almost impalpable hum of a city. And animals: no dogs, no birds, not even a cricket’s legs rubbing together, not even a smell. Now bump it up to 95 degrees. Turn your radio on and listen to 80 percent of your city drowning. You’re almost there. Only twenty-eight days to go.

Joshua Clark never left New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, choosing instead to band together with fellow holdouts in the French Quarter, pooling resources and volunteering energy in an effort to save the city they loved. When Katrina hit, Clark, a key correspondent for National Public Radio during the storm, immediately began to record hundreds of hours of conversations with its victims, not only in the city but throughout the Gulf: the devastated poor and rich alike; rescue workers from around the country; reporters; local characters who could exist nowhere else but New Orleans; politicians; the woman Clark loved, in a relationship ravaged by the storm. Their voices resound throughout this memoir of a unique and little-known moment of anarchy and chaos, of heartbreaking kindness and incomprehensible anguish, of mercy and madness as only America could deliver it.

Paying homage to the emotional power of Joan Didion, the journalistic authority of Norman Mailer, and the gonzo irreverence of Tom Wolfe, Joshua Clark takes us through the experiences of loss and renewal, resilience and hope, in a city unlike any other. With lyrical sympathy, humility, and humor, Heart Like Water marks an astonishing and important national debut.

A portion of the author's royalties from this book will go to the Katrina Arts Relief and Emergency Support (KARES) fund, which supports New Orleans-area writers affected by the storm. Visit NewOrleansLiteraryInstitute.com to find out how to make a direct and positive impact on the region.

Finalist for the 2008 National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The first Katrina books were literal and drawn in American Realism tones. Now comes Josh Clark and Heart Like Water, written in surrealistic bursts of purple and crimson and goth black, as vivid as the storm itself and as uncompromising as the survivors of New Orleans."

— Curtis Wilkie, author of Dixie

"Joshua Clark has written a poignant, evocative book about the city he loves. Heart Like Water has the paradoxical ability to both uplift and haunt."

— Douglas Brinkley, author of The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast

"In the growing constellation of Katrina stories, Josh Clark's masterful tale shines brightest. The Apocalypse destroyed a city and ripped to shreds lives, but the legibility of its profound inner impact had to wait for this book, which is a love story. Clark's book is our Love in a Time of Cholera, but, even more than Marquez's novel, it is immediate and wrenching and true, while its rhythms, like Marquez's, are nothing short of majestic. Josh Clark has written the great nonfiction New Orleans novel, a book that's here to stay.

— Andrei Codrescu, NPR correspondent and author of New Orleans, Mon Amour

"For those of us who still mourn and fear we will always mourn for our beloved New Orleans, Joshua Clark's memoir of the terrible Katrina — for which he would not abandon the city — is a tough and beautiful thing. He has an eye and an ear for the crucial details and he is also a really fine writer. You will mourn anew reading this book, but it will help you heal."

— Robert Olen Butler, author of Severance and the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain

"Sprawling, rambunctious, and finally very moving, Josh Clark's Heart Like Water is a valuable, kaleidoscopic record of a time when reality got turned inside out in America's most soulful city."

— Tom Piazza, author of Why New Orleans Matters

"Heart Like Water gives us not only a first-person history of a horrific time, but all the chaos and absurdity of that time. Clark has produced something that is not only entertaining, but an important document explaining how people adjust and survive."

— John Barry, author of The Great Influenza and Rising Tide

"Joshua Clark stuck it out in New Orleans during Katrina and the ensuing flood and serves up Apocalypse stew, which doesn't go down easy. Heart Like Water is street reporting at its rawest and most revealing. Clark tells what happened as it happened, the disgusting, painful truth without pontificating from a safe distance. He's a soul survivor if ever there was one."

— Barry Gifford, author of Wild at Heart and Night People

"The hurricane as seen by a young man in the French Quarter who stayed through it all, describing a trajectory from horrified onlooker to rebel and outcast to angel and mystic and madman, to trauma victim and political activist. As an adopted son of Louisiana and friend to its residents, witness to suffering and the loss of all some possess — the one thing that is not lost is his devotion to the place and admiration of their spirit and plea for their future."

— Nancy Lemann, author of Malaise and The Fiery Pantheon

"What was it like? That's what you want to know, isn't it? What was it like when the levees collapsed and New Orleans sank into chaos? Heart Like Water is the vivid eyewitness account by Joshua Clark of life and love in a ruined city."

— John Biguenet, author of Oyster and The Torturer's Apprentice

Publishers Weekly

As Hurricane Katrina bears down on New Orleans, Clark (founder of Light of New Orleans Publishing) refuses to leave his French Quarter apartment, convinced that he'll be safe four stories up. In the days that follow, he and other friends who stayed behind make the best of the situation, appropriating huge quantities of liquor during a supermarket looting, and organizing themselves as a makeshift cleanup crew to avoid being forcibly evacuated. Such lighthearted moments become increasingly rare as tension develops between Clark's optimistic outlook and his girlfriend's depressed reaction. "We each think the other's pathetic," he confesses to a friend, "and there's New Orleans busted in the abyss between us." The drawn-out disintegration of their relationship runs through the second half of the memoir, while Clark tape-records impressionistic interviews with fellow storm survivors. The scenes of physical devastation are matched by an uncompromising look at the emotional traumas that unfold in the storm's aftermath-yet through it all, Clark never fully abandons his sense of the absurd. In a short postscript, he turns serious to call attention to "the fastest disappearing landmass on the planet," the coastal wetlands that separate New Orleans from the Gulf of Mexico, urging readers to agitate for a solution. (July 10)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
A man who stayed for the storm, and what he saw after. Clark, a journalist and the founder of Light of New Orleans Publishing, defied the compulsory evacuation of New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina approached his beloved city, and he and a similarly contrarian group of French Quarter residents spent the ensuing weeks in the alternately nightmarish and summer camp-like ruins of the fabled Big Easy, struggling to restore some semblance of order to the chaotic uncertainty that surrounded them. Clark evokes the fear, confusion, despair and perverse exhilaration he and his fellow survivors experienced as they confronted the massive destruction and eerie emptiness left in Katrina's wake, foraging for food, water and alcohol (lots and lots of alcohol-the daily consumption of these hardies would stun a rhinoceros). Clark recorded conversations with the people he encountered on his travels through his ruined home, and the stories he collects range from the horrific (rapes in refugee shelters, evacuees dying of dehydration stuck on the interstate, people hurling infants from the sewage-swamped Superdome) to the inspirational (many residents displayed heroic selflessness, distributing food, supplies and medical attention to those unable to fend for themselves). After a short period of "school's out" giddiness, Clark's reportage acquires a steady undercurrent of rage, directed at, among other things, the government's tail-chasing, bureaucratically driven failure to take care of its citizens in a timely manner; the bully-boy tactics of some of the official personnel dispatched to maintain "order" in the devastation; the misinformation and confusion sown by the rapacious national news media; and theshort-sighted environmental policies that left New Orleans vulnerable to such calamity in the first place. Powerful stuff, but the narrative becomes repetitive and somewhat numbing. Also, Clark has a predilection for pseudo-Kerouacian flights of poetic fancy, and his heavily dwelt-upon girlfriend troubles, which are undoubtedly important to him, but that pall in the face of profound destruction and loss. An important and impassioned document of unimaginable tragedy-also a difficult and rather joyless read, but that's probably appropriate.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416537632
  • Publisher: Free Press
  • Publication date: 7/10/2007
  • Pages: 368
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Joshua Clark, founder of Light of New Orleans Publishing, edited Louisiana in Words, French Quarter Fiction, and other books, and his writing and photographs appear in many newspapers and magazines. He covered New Orleans in Katrina's aftermath for Salon.com and National Public Radio.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2007

    A Call for Action

    This is reporting at its best and writing at its most lyrical. Clark, who stayed in New Orleans and witnessed Katrina and its aftermath firsthand, takes his readers on a mesmerizing journey that is haunting, intimate, and poignant. His story is more than a tale of survival - it's a detailed account of friends and strangers bonding together in a Twilight Zone where everything that is familiar and comforting disappears. It is also a love story: Clark is a relative newcomer to New Orleans, a city that measures residency in generatons, but it has quickly captured his heart, a fact evident in his passionate descriptions of his adopted home in turmoil. He concludes his narrative with a call to action, issuing a warning to what will happen if the levees are not made stronger and the wetlands restored. Presenting a merger of scientific logic with an historical perspective, he encourages his readers to join his crusade and make it an avocation by taking 'Katrina's fatal hint.' There are many books about Katrina, but this one ranks at the top.

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    Posted July 15, 2009

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    Posted November 30, 2008

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