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By Amanda Boyden (Pantheon Books)

I have to be honest here. I’ve got

a special fondness for books about and set in New Orleans, mostly because I love the vitality and individuality of the New Orleans milieu. The unique mix of Caribbean, Spanish French and Cajun influences personified in the food, the music and the lifestyle. Tennessee Williams, John Kennedy Toole, Marnie Woodrow – they all know and write well of the Crescent City, just as Lucinda Williams sings of it. You can add another literary name here: Amanda Boyden. You may have read her husband’s

much praised World War One novel, Three Day Road, or his more recent one, Through Black Spruce. His wife is also a hell of a good writer; that the couple shuffle between the northern Ontario of his youth and the southern city they call home is demonstrated in their chosen settings. If you’ve

never been to New Orleans and want to get a feel for the city - its ambience, atmosphere and people - pick up a copy of Babylon Rolling. You’re in for a real treat.

Told in five disparate voices – all

neighbours on the same street – the novel captures the uniqueness of New Orleans life while vividly describing the peculiar rhythms and feel of the city: from the drug-ridden, black ghettos Fearius (one of the voices) and his brother inhabit to the downtown party atmosphere of the French Quarter with its Mardi gras revelry and comme ci, comme ca mindset. From the oddity of bars plunked in the middle of residential streets to the impact of the Mississippi on the city; from the constant threat of disaster by hurricane, flood or both to the colourful spectacle of the floats and parades that counter thoughts of impending crises, Boyden

gets it all down, along with great dexterity of character and the ability to tie them all together. Babylon Rolling is as much about

time and place as it is the incidents that happen to the diverse neighbours who are the central voices of the story, incidents that bring them together in ways none of them could have initially imagined. Overriding it all is the threat of a hurricane the magnitude of Katrina that promises naturally violent consequences and acts as a backdrop to the human-wrought violence that climaxes on a neighbourhood street in the Riverbend section of a special city. Boyden’s novel captures that city and its residents brilliantly.

IIII out of five

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