Cover image for The yellow house
Title:
The yellow house
ISBN:
9780802125088
Edition:
1st Grove Atlantic ed.
Physical Description:
376 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm.
Contents:
The world before me. Amelia "Lolo" ; Joseph, Elaine, and Ivory ; Webb ; Simon Broom ; Short end, long street ; Betsy ; The crown -- The grieving house. Hiding places ; Origins ; The grieving house ; Map of my world ; Four eyes ; Elsewheres ; Interiors ; Tongues ; Distances ; 1999 -- Water. Run ; Survive ; Settle ; Bury ; Trace ; Erase ; Forget ; Perdido -- Do you know what it means? Investigations. Sojourner ; Saint Rose ; Saint Peter ; McCoy ; Photo op ; Investigations ; Phantoms ; Dark night, Wilson ; Cutting grass -- After.
Summary:
Sarah M. Broom's [memoir] The Yellow House tells a hundred years of her family and their relationship to home in a neglected area of one of America's most mythologized cities. This is the story of a mother's struggle against a house's entropy, and that of a prodigal daughter who left home only to reckon with the pull that home exerts, even after the Yellow House was wiped off the map after Hurricane Katrina. --
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Summary

Summary

A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

FINALIST FOR THE NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR NONFICTION

A brilliant, haunting and unforgettable memoir from a stunning new talent about the inexorable pull of home and family, set in a shotgun house in New Orleans East.

In 1961, Sarah M. Broom's mother Ivory Mae bought a shotgun house in the then-promising neighborhood of New Orleans East and built her world inside of it. It was the height of the Space Race and the neighborhood was home to a major NASA plant--the postwar optimism seemed assured. Widowed, Ivory Mae remarried Sarah's father Simon Broom; their combined family would eventually number twelve children. But after Simon died, six months after Sarah's birth, the Yellow House would become Ivory Mae's thirteenth and most unruly child.

A book of great ambition, Sarah M. Broom's The Yellow House tells a hundred years of her family and their relationship to home in a neglected area of one of America's most mythologized cities. This is the story of a mother's struggle against a house's entropy, and that of a prodigal daughter who left home only to reckon with the pull that home exerts, even after the Yellow House was wiped off the map after Hurricane Katrina. The Yellow House expands the map of New Orleans to include the stories of its lesser-known natives, guided deftly by one of its native daughters, to demonstrate how enduring drives of clan, pride, and familial love resist and defy erasure. Located in the gap between the "Big Easy" of tourist guides and the New Orleans in which Broom was raised, The Yellow House is a brilliant memoir of place, class, race, the seeping rot of inequality, and the internalized shame that often follows. It is a transformative, deeply moving story from an unparalleled new voice of startling clarity, authority, and power.


Author Notes

Sarah M. Broom received her Masters in Journalism from the University of California, Berkeley in 2004. She was awarded a Whiting Foundation Creative Nonfiction Grant in 2016 and was a finalist for the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Creative Nonfiction in 2011. She has also been awarded fellowships at Djerassi Resident Artists Program and The MacDowell Colony. She lives in New York state.


Reviews 5

Publisher's Weekly Review

Broom presents a great, multigenerational family story in her debut memoir. At its center is Broom's dilapidated childhood home-a source of both division and unity in the family. Broom's mother, Ivory Mae, bought the house, located in New Orleans East, in 1961; the budding area then succumbed to poverty and crime in the late 1980s. Broom connects the house's physical decline to the death in 1980 of her father, Simon, who left many unfinished repair projects. The house had a precarious staircase, electrical problems, and holes that attracted rodents and cockroaches. Broom recalls living in an increasingly unwelcoming environment: "When would the rats come out from underneath the sink?" she wonders. Broom eventually left New Orleans-she attended college in Texas and got a job in New York-but returned after Hurricane Katrina. Through interviews with her brother, Carl, she vividly relays Katrina's impact on families. Broom is an engaging guide; she has some of David Simon's effortless reporting style, and her meditations on eroding places recall Jeannette Walls. The house didn't survive Katrina, but its destruction strengthened Broom's appreciation of home. Broom's memoir serves as a touching tribute to family and a unique exploration of the American experience. (Aug.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.


Kirkus Review

Broom reassembles her sizable family tree, damaged by time and uprooted by Hurricane Katrina.As the author suggests in her debut book, her clan's tempest-tossed experience was practically predetermined. She was raised in New Orleans East, an especially swampy section of the city so poor and distant from the city's romantic center that it never appeared on tourist maps. In 1961, when Broom's mother purchased the house of the title, it was hyped as a boomtown "involving men and money and wetlands, dreaming and draining and emergence and fate." But rapid development covered up a multitude of municipal sins that emerged once the rains came. (The title refers in part to the yellow aluminum siding that cloaked rotting wood beneath.) The youngest of 12 siblings and half siblings, Broom knew much of her family only via lore and later research (her father died six months after her birth), which gives this book the feel of a heartfelt but unflinching recovery project. In the early portions, the author describes her family's hard living (her mother was widowed twice) and the region's fickle economy and institutional racism. Private school gave Broom a means of escapeshe lived in New York working for O, the Oprah Magazine, when Katrina struckbut she returned to reckon with "the psychic cost of defining oneself by the place where you are from." As family members were relocated around the country, she scrambled to locate and assist them, kept tabs on the house, and took a well-intentioned but disillusioning job as a speechwriter for controversial New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin, insincerely hyping the city's progress. Broom's lyrical style celebrates her family bonds, but a righteous fury runs throughout the narrative at New Orleans' injustices, from the foundation on up.A tribute to the multitude of stories one small home can contain, even one bursting with loss. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.


Booklist Review

Remembering is a chair that is hard to sit still in, muses Broom, a Whiting Foundation grant recipient. Indeed, though centered around the titular family home before and after Hurricane Katrina, Broom's peripatetic narrative reflects the wanderings of all those displaced and disconnected by the Water. Broom is blunt about the callous incompetence Katrina survivors faced. Although UN policy gives those displaced through natural disaster the human right to return to their communities, the New Orleans director of recovery management openly mocks returning Black residents as buffoons. The Federal Road Home program never paid them enough to live in newly gentrified areas. Broom notes of the pre-Katrina community stability, only a small fraction of New Orleans ever left for elsewhere. Katrina is a community and family tragedy. Broom's siblings are scattered across the country; her Alzheimer's-afflicted grandmother, lost for a month after a sloppy nursing home evacuation, dies shortly after being recovered, and the damaged family home is condemned. Yet Broom's family is stronger than any house. A moving tribute to family and a powerful indictment of societal indifference.--Lesley Williams Copyright 2019 Booklist


New York Review of Books Review

when sarah M. broom was in high school, she and her mother briefly attended a revivalist megachurch near their New Orleans home, the kind where people got "drunk on the Holy Spirit" and burned with "Holy Ghost Fire."The youngest of 12 siblings, Broom spent her childhood on the hunt for an adequate mode of self-expression. She took to the practice of speaking in tongues. "The only control was in letting go," she writes. "When you gave yourself over to it, it came bubbling out from you, this foreign language you did not need to study for, that was specific to you and your tongue, and that you did not know you spoke - until you did." As an adult, Broom continued to seek the place and language that felt most like home to her, and it wasn't until she returned to New Orleans, with its particular cadence and history and sins, that she found it. This journey is one aspect of Broom's extraordinary, engrossing debut, "The Yellow House," but Broom recognizes that she needs to find the language to tell an even more expansive story. She pushes past the baseline expectations of memoir as a genre to create an entertaining and inventive amalgamation of literary forms. Part oral history, part urban history, part celebration of a bygone way of life, "The Yellow House" is a full indictment of the greed, discrimination, indifference and poor city planning that led her family's home to be wiped off the map. ft is an instantly essential text, examining the past, present and possible future of the city of New Orleans, and of America writ large. New Orleans East, where Broom grew up, is an area "50 times the size of the French Quarter," yet nowhere to be found on most tourist maps. Her neighborhood, centered on the short end of a street cut off from the rest of the city by a raging thoroughfare, is a familiar sort for many black folks in this country: comprising the scraps of real estate whites have passed over or fled. We witness the street through the eyes of Broom's 11 older siblings, who saw it transform from integrated and residential to segregated and "light industrial" over the years beginning in the '60s. Broom leaves the street and New Orleans behind in the late '90s. The city demolished the house less than a year after Hurricane Katrina, the only prior notice having been, in an act of civic absurdity, mailed to its address. "Remembering is a chair that it is hard to sit still in," Broom writes. "The Yellow House" is a conscious act of abiding in such memories in order to create a textual record where the physical one no longer exists. Broom is our guide, but not the sort who holds readers' hands, uninterested as she is in tidy transitions between one type of writing and another. The through line is her thought process, her frequent questioning: "When you come from a mythologized place, as I do, who are you in that story?" she asks while living for a year in the French Quarter after a lifetime of merely shuttling through it for work. "Why do I sometimes feel that I do not have the right to the story of the city I come from?" she asks after signing the contract for this book and embarking on the research to write it. One question posed in the center of the book - "How to resurrect a house with words?" - trembles beneath the surface of every page, like the ripple of a stone dropped in water. Broom searches for her own answers, undertaking what she calls "investigations" via archives and interviews and living. She claims that her favorite place to be is "on the verge of discovery," and because she is skilled at making each inquiry feel urgent, this quickly becomes the reader's favorite place as well. Similar to the writer Gayl Jones, who in works like the novel "Corregidora" uses her characters' dialogue to create a subtext of knotted history, Broom allows us to infer what might lie in the silences between the words her family members speak to her, during what must have amounted to whole days' worth of recorded interviews. Here is Broom's mother, Ivory Mae, remembering her own darkerskinned mother: "She wasn't black to me. She was my mama and my mama wasn't black. Looked to me like they was trying to make my mama like the black people I didn't like." The interviews also yield unforgettable scenes. As the waters rose during the worst of Hurricane Katrina, Broom's older brother Carl, who also goes by Rabbit, stood in an attic with a meat cleaver, a gun and his two Pekingese dogs, Mindy and Tiger. Carl hacked his way out onto the roof, and the three were eventually ferried to dry land. "Mindy and them wasn't on no leash," he recalls. "I had some Adidas tennis on, but they was so tight. I took the shoestrings off and made leashes." These days, the question of who should be allowed to tell a story, whether fictional or fact-based, seems to hang in the air around many a work of literature. That Broom is a New Orleans native will automatically put some readers at ease, those who think authority is inextricably linked to biography; but that would be selling Broom's craftsmanship short. The true test of her worthiness is her empathy and focused attention. She is a responsible historian, granting her subjects the grace of multiple examinations over the years. Her brother Darryl, drug addicted and desperate for money, frightens her as a teenager in the '90s to the point that she doesn't recall looking him directly in the eye. Years later we meet him again, the sobered-up head of a delightfully mundane Arizona household, his only daughter named after his wary, observant youngest sister. The person who sustains the most considered attention is Broom's mother, Ivory Mae, the twice-widowed steward of the crumbling yellow house itself. "My voice is not a distinguished voice," Ivory insists, but her words and actions buoy "The Yellow House," holding up to the light those moments Broom was too young or unwilling to witness firsthand. "I was a little pathetic at first," Ivory Mae admits of her early widowed years, "I needed to make myself know things." She sets to this task with fervor, going to night school for her G.E.D. and a nursing credential so that she can fill the role of breadwinner suddenly thrust upon her. If Broom's arc in this memoir is that of coming of age and consciousness, Ivory Mae's is of doggedly persevering as her circumstances shift. Ivory Mae tries mightily to keep the house in good condition, sewing curtains and valances to hide the disrepair, but the house is a "belligerent unyielding child": Rats and lizards find their way inside, linoleum peels prematurely and areas under the sink grow slick with mold. "This house not all that comfortable for other people," becomes Ivory's standard rejoinder when the kids try to host sleepovers. This seesawing between stubborn pride in the home she bought herself and "slow creeping" shame for the poverty that prevents her from improving it makes the nature of its demolition, without her consent, one of the book's central tragedies. Ivory's second husband, Simon Broom, died when their youngest daughter was 6 months old. "My father is six pictures," she writes, photos she takes with her as she travels from Texas to Berkeley to as far as Burundi in an effort to understand where and how she fits in the world. A riveting, heartbreaking scene toward the book's ending dramatizes Broom's attempts to find additional physical evidence of him in city archives: "Part of me was afraid to see him alive. ... In the world of dead parents, logic fails." Broom's deadpan humor comes through clearest in her descriptions of herself. On the now-vanished supermarket she visited as a child: "one of my favorite places to act a fool." On the tenuous position of authority granted to her by her siblings' children, some of whom are older than she is: "I am these people's Auntie even though I am still peeing in the bed." These moments, coupled with the singular, unvarnished voices of her family members, coalesce to form a lesson on how to keep a necessarily heavy book feeling limber. "Calling places by what they originally were, especially when the landscape is marred, is one way to fight erasure," Broom writes. There are black and Latino neighborhoods from Detroit to Los Angeles where refusing to call a place by a new name is the last line of defense, but what happened in New Orleans East is more than the result of housing segregation, white divestment or the hypercapitalist, winner-takes-all land grab that we call gentrification. "The Yellow House" is among other things a climate-change narrative, the book suited to these last days for taking action to prevent rising sea levels and other dire consequences of unfettered carbon emission. Broom's siblings, living in places like Vacaville, Calif., and Ozark, Ala., with no paths to come home, are part of the Katrina diaspora, and as extreme weather becomes the new normal, other diasporas have followed. The phrase "the Water" is the one she uses to refer to Hurricane Katrina and the subsequent displacement, loss of life and livelihood. One can imagine a wider array of people soon adopting this language - "the Water" becoming a shorthand for all that is lost when nature defies the plans we've made for where and how we live. Any book as kinetic and omnivorous as "The Yellow House" is bound to succeed more on some fronts than on others. It begins at the chronological beginning, with Broom tracing her mother's lineage, which means the first section of the book is more removed and reportorial. This doesn't seem like a liability until around Page 100, when Broom's own voice and perspective vault the language into another dimension. But even this choice feels rooted in Broom's aesthetic intentions. "The Yellow House" is a book that triumphs much as a jazz parade does: by coming loose when necessary, its parts sashaying independently down the street, but righting itself just in the nick of time, and teaching you a new way of enjoying it in the process. It is an instantly essentiell text, examining the past, present and possible future of the city of New Orleans, and of America writ large. ANGELA FLOURNOY is the author of "The Turner House."


Library Journal Review

This ambitious, haunting memoir of home, movement, displacement, loss, and persistence allows Broom to offer an intimate, closely observed history of her family over nearly a hundred years. At its center is the author's mother, Ivory Mae Broom, who at 19, already a widow and mother of three, purchased the titular house in 1961 in industrial, impoverished New Orleans East, a world away from the French Quarter. Ivory Mae would raise 12 children there, of whom Broom is the youngest. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina rendered the Yellow House uninhabitable, magnified the racial inequities woven into New Orleans, and further scattered the already dispersed Broom family. This scattering included for the author a sojourn in Burundi and a brief stint back in New Orleans as a speechwriter for beleaguered mayor Ray Nagan; neither fulfilling, but both germane to what had become a quest for the essence of relationship and place. Though largely a linear narrative, this debut memoir feels collage-like--impressionistic, cumulative, multisensory--imbued with ambivalence about leaving and wonder at the pull of home. VERDICT Recommended for all who enjoy family history or care to explore beyond the surface of place. [See Prepub Alert, 2/11/19.]--Janet Ingraham Dwyer, State Lib. of Ohio, Columbus