From Ned Sublette comes a lively, rollicking recounting of the three histories of New Orleans: French, Spanish, and American. Covering the earliest days of the city through the first quarter century or so of the Nineteenth Century, Sublette’s is detailed, nuanced work, focusing particularly on the connections between La Nouvelle Orleans and Havana and Saint Domingo. Drawing the musical and spiritual connections between the three locations and their roots in West Africa, Sublette describes the interplay of cultures and the central role of free people of color in the burgeoning port as well as the world-wide political events that influenced the city’s history.
Sublette’s technique is the opposite of dry history; it is told in a louche, mischievous voice that occasionally slips into the first person and draws incisive connections between historical events and those more contemporary, such as Hurricane Katrina. Sublette’s sorrow over the displacement of residents and disruption of (especially black) culture post-Katrina causes him to get a bit lost in the out-of-place coda to the book; here, the narrative loses a little force due to nostalgia. But overall, Sublette, a New Yorker but Louisiana native gives us an admirable and entertaining work about America’s most interesting city.