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Joshua Clark: Heart Like Water: Surviving Katrina and Life in Its Disaster Zone - Review

By Remy Benoit

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

Louisiana is about life: a rich, full, raucous, outrageous will to life, claiming itself no matter what.

Here, about fifty miles north of New Orleans, it was 5:45 in morning when the power went down. It would be 5:45 PM, eighteen very long, very hard, very hot days later when the power came back on.

During that time we had no true pictures of what our beloved city was going through, nor the coast, nor the surrounding parishes—just voices on the radio crying of the horror and soul-tearing destruction which Katrina had wrought.

When the power came back on, we began to get an idea, only an idea because pain like that, loss like that does not truly translate into camera shots, into sound bytes.

Joshua Clark, Heart Like Water:Surviving Katrina and Life in Its Disaster Zone. is heart-tearing, mind-bending, for those who love the Gulf Coast, who love the Crescent City, because it is intensely, oh so intensely, personal.

There is something resilient, heroic, about folks who love their city taking brooms to hand to clear the banquettes; there is something life-affirming in reading of those same folks clearing the streets for emergency vehicles to pass through.

Joshua Clark, Heart Like Water. takes us back to 1718, when New Orleans first began, yet to become the realization of insight, far sight, and a dream of an incredible port city. She is a dream carved out of the river lands; a vision birthed so long ago, held onto with desperation in the post-hurricane times despite intense heat, suffocating humidity, ravenous mosquitoes, and other things best left in dark corners and crevices unseen, but so visible after these storms.

Joshua Clark, Heart Like Water. makes this catastrophe personal be it the missing fingers of Jesus behind the St. Luke Cathedral; sheets, or a mud filled sock, hanging suspended from a tree in Lakeview; the devastation of the 9th Ward; the wave-eaten town of Waveland on the Mississippi Gulf Coast—gone, just gone, pulverized by wind by the first eye wall; tidal surged and dragged out to sea by the heart of Katrina, pulling out every cell of the town.

Josh and a handful of others stayed—to witness, to tell the story of the heart of the Crescent City being bled by Katrina. They stayed, they survived to share the story—to take us to the warehouse that was filled with produce while people hungered in the Superdome; to that same warehouse as it blows sky high with its adjacent building, yet another victim of the post storm chaos.

It is Josh who baptizes himself in the muddied waters of the main water artery of this country, as he eases himself into the mighty Mississippi in a kind of spiritual joining.

Josh and those with him have lived in a place apart—lived in it, lived through it—and found parts of themselves that could survive it all, just as New Orleans and the rest of the Gulf Coast has. He tells us a story of the city; of parishes and counties; of a coast ripped, blown, muddied, burned and gouged apart—that can only be brought together again with the massive effort, coordination, and cooperation that comes from joined hearts and minds.

Joshua Clark, Heart Like Water:Surviving Katrina and Life in Its Disaster Zone. is intoxicating—and that has nothing to do with the liquor consumed in the aftermath of this city, town, and coast-eating event. Heart Like Water intoxicates because of its truth, its visceral reality. I could not but sip slowly from its pages; walking with Josh through the Quarter; aching in Lakeview; crying on the bridge looking down at the 9th Ward; venturing inside homes and lives shredded by this cataclysmic storm.

He gives us water, mud, and things we would rather had always stayed in the dark. He hands us soaked family pictures, unredeemable. He tears out our hearts with pieces of homes, of furniture, of jobs, of lives tangled in the wreckage of the pain of this unnecessary horror.

And yet he shows us, step by step, street by street, town by town, that we go on, despite life-eviscerating winds, home-gagging water, hollow promises made in our Jackson Square.

In shared meals, shared produce, rare frosted drinks, in a cell phone and a laptop charged here or there by the famous ‘kindness of strangers,’ he gives us the great truth, that we go on, we can go on.

Indeed, we must go on.

Joshua Clark, Heart Like Water. reminds us that homes, towns, cities are not the buildings, but the people; that they are the dreams, the resilience, the determination of those same people.

It makes us understand why so many post-war European cities were rebuilt stone-for-stone.

We are the world we make; the world we preserve, rebuild, hold dear.

Josh Clark has given us a great, great gift in the pages of
Joshua Clark, Heart Like Water:Surviving Katrina and Life in Its Disaster Zone. Sip it slowly, page by page, day by day—coming up from under the ravages of wind and water to remember who the people of the Gulf Coast are—can do people—born and raised here in this mud —who, while we may have hearts like everyone else’s made mostly of water, the rest is the pure gold of love of place.

Come to New Orleans, to the Gulf Coast with Josh through the pages of
Joshua Clark, Heart Like Water:Surviving Katrina and Life in Its Disaster Zone.
—it will be a journey you will never forget. And then follow the lead he gives you, and help us help the Crescent City, the wetlands, the Gulf Coast—understand what you personally have to lose if we lose our wetlands, the port, and the coast we hold so dear.

America's Wetland.

Coalition to Restore Coastal Louisiana.


Louisiana Speaks.

K.A.R.E.S.: Katrina Arts Relief and Emergency Support.


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This item is part of historian, author, editor, and educator Remy Benoit's ongoing weblog for Veterans, writers, students, and others who believe in learning from and making history; including thousands of articles and posts and the free writing seminar, Using History for Healing and Writing.

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