NOLA Review: Out of the Easy by Ruta Sepetys

 


It’s 1950, and as the French Quarter of New Orleans simmers with secrets, seventeen-year-old Josie Moraine is silently stirring a pot of her own. Known among locals as the daughter of a brothel prostitute, Josie wants more out of life than the Big Easy has to offer.

She devises a plan to get out, but a mysterious death in the Quarter leaves Josie tangled in an investigation that will challenge her allegiance to her mother, her conscience, and Willie Woodley, the brusque madam on Conti Street. Josie is caught between the dream of an elite college and a clandestine underworld. New Orleans lures her in her quest for truth, dangling temptation at every turn, and escalating to the ultimate test.

Holy hell was this book a roller coaster of action and heartbreak.

Now, I mostly decided to feature books set in or about New Orleans for this week because I will be visiting for the first time in a week. I’m quickly realizing that I’m in for some moving work.

Out of the Easy provides such a portrait of New Orleans in the 1950s that I feel like I could have been walking alongside Josie and taking a ride with Cokie through every page.  Sepetys is such a historical fiction genius.  She weaves the story of this incredibly intelligent teenage girl with a penchant for books and a heart of gold alongside a rough and tumble life of prostitutes and mob violence. Honestly, there were so many vibrant characters that jumped off the page.  From Charlie to his son, Patrick, to Charlotte (who only physically appears twice), to the brooding Jesse, to the fierce and unapologetic Willie…New Orleans is my favorite character in this book.

The version of New Orleans that Sepetys has created shows the darkness and the light sides of the city in such a subtle way.  She doesn’t hammer us over the head with the details or even using too much of the southern dialect or Creole vocabulary.  I don’t really know how to explain it, but it made me fall in love with the dichotomy that is this historic city.  I also appreciate that while the novel mentions Mardi Gras, it doesn’t focus on it or spend a whole lot of the narrative on it.  I think I’ve just come to expect that with anyone who mentions NOLA, so I was super happy that the narrative was much more character focused.

Side note: Sepetys actually mentions a good number of places in New Orleans that are still famous today and places that myself and my best friend have actually discussed visiting next week.

Commander’s Palace (which has .25 cent martinis at lunch!), Antoine’s (with famous Baked Alaska), and Galatoire’s (NYT Top 10 Best Restaurants)

This book stole my heart.

5 Bards!

Book Review: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys

Winter, 1945. Four teenagers. Four secrets.

Each one born of a different homeland; each one hunted, and haunted, by tragedy, lies…and war.

As thousands of desperate refugees flock to the coast in the midst of a Soviet advance, four paths converge, vying for passage aboard the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship that promises safety and freedom.

Yet not all promises can be kept.

There are a lot of things that we study in US and World History about World War II, but the plight of German, Prussian, Polish, and Lithuanian refugees is not something that is touched on much, and the Wilhelm Gustloff even less so. In fact, I’m sad to say that prior to the publication of Sepetys’ novel I hadn’t even heard about the Gustloff or the nine thousand people that lost their lives in the icy sea that night in 1945.

Sepetys’ story actually doesn’t focus as much on the Wilhelm Gustloff’s sinking so much as it does the journey of each of these teenagers as their stories begin to intertwine and finally converge on the ill fated last trip of the Gustloff.

This being my first Ruta Sepetys novel, despite owning both of her other novels (I know, I really need to get on top of this and read the others!), I was impressed by the utter beauty of her character development.  For the most part, these characters are orphans of war, either not knowing where their parents are, their parents have passed, or they were cast out or forced to join the war efforts.  Sepetys does an amazing job of revealing these small truths about these characters over the course of the narrative, and despite my skepticism about multiple narrators (especially when such short chapters are involved), I found the voices to be distinct enough that it added to the story.

One character is a medically trained nurse, one a mysterious boy with a secret, one an overzealous Nazi, and one a Polish girl with no one.

By all means, this is an absolutely brutal story.

Readers will encounter stories of pillage and rape, war fatalities, hypothermia, frostbite, and a lot of death.  It is a story not for the faint of heart.

Half the narrators do not survive.

In a lot of ways this novel reminds me of Margaret Haddix’s Uprising, as the story builds around very different characters caught up in each other’s fates, and it plays so well while telling the story of those forgotten by history.

For those forgotten by time, the disaster has been given more attention following the publication of Salt to the Sea, but unfortunately the majority of these poor souls’ stories will never be told.  So we have to remember them and the disaster.

The refugee tale is not one that is unimportant by any means in today’s political climate, and it is vital to remember that their plights are not just a tale out of time.

5 Bards for this heartbreaking story that still manages to provide hope

fivebards

 

 

 

 

 

 

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