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Sarah Broom interviewed by Abigail Thomas
Buy a copy of "The Yellow House" at our store to reserve your seat for this event. Seating will be limited.
The Yellow House by Sarah Broom
Grove Press, August 13, 2019, $26
"I always dwell on absences more than the presences," author Sarah Broom confesses, summing up a truth at the heart of The Yellow House. In this gripping debut memoir, Broom chooses an unlikely monument to recreate history—her neglected, too-small childhood home on a dead-end street in a part of town, New Orleans East, that had long been abandoned by developers and city officials.
Broom's mother Ivory Mae purchased the house in 1961 for $3,200, using money she received following her first husband's death. At this time, New Orleans East—a city literally built on a swamp—was being promoted as the next great urban expansion of the South, with the promise of jobs at the nearby NASA plant, where members of Broom's family worked. As time passed and these silver-lined economic dreams failed to materialize, the house carried on. But when Broom's father died abruptly six months after her birth, the structure entered a 20-year period of neglect. "Now girl, you know this house," was her mother's refrain whenever a visitor threatened to darken their doorstep.
Broom's book is organized in four parts: the history of her family and the city that gave rise to the yellow house; Broom's life growing up in it; the tempestuous waters of Katrina that, despite their strength, were unable to fell the building; and finally Broom's investigations into the house's history and the city's deceitful policies in failing to compensate families like her own who had lost everything. Threaded throughout the prose are the voices of family and friends, which add layers of textures to these overlooked neighborhoods while rounding out the overall sense of loss—a ghostly chorus of a past that refuses to be washed away.
After the waters of Katrina level New Orleans East, a suprised engineer notes that the enduring yellow house was never properly tethered. So what held it in place all those years? "The weight of the people who lived in it," the engineer suggests.
In Broom's hands, the yellow house—which survived a dozen children, the abrupt death of a parent, and the devastating waters of Hurricane Katrina—is transformed not merely into a symbol of her own family's story, but a synecdoche for the history of New Orleans, the struggles of African Americans, and ultimately the soul of America itself.
The Golden Notebook in Woodstock hosts Sarah Broom, interviewed by Abigail Thomas, for a reading and signing on October 5 at 4pm.