Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Review: My New Orleans, Gone Away

About the Book:
 In this poignant and vivid memoir, Peter M. Wolf, a member of one of New Orleans’s oldest Jewish families, provides an insider’s look at his fabled city and the wider world beyond that he comes to inhabit.

Written with humor and telling detail, My New Orleans contains rare insight about the social structure of New Orleans; student life at Exeter, Tulane and Yale; the thrill of original scholarship; around the world travel before jets; medical school trauma; ingrained southern racism, and anti-Semitism; and American students’ role in anti-Vietnam uprisings in Paris. In the background, he traces the rags to riches rise and fall of his city’s and his family’s engagement in the cotton, sugar and retail trades.

After a year of medical school at Columbia, Wolf returns to New Orleans to work in his father’s cotton brokerage and simultaneously earns a master’s degree at Tulane. Wolf later returns to the Northeast, completes doctoral studies at NYU, and becomes an architectural historian.

Reflecting the yearnings and anxieties of a generation that came of age after World War II, this is the journey of a restless man who leaves the hometown he loves to discover the world, and in so doing, to find himself. My New Orleans offers a penetrating and memorable account of a fading period of America’s evolution, turbulence and possibilities, as unique as the city of Wolf’s memory.

My Comments:
When I first saw the book cover and title I figured this was another "how things are different since Katrina" book.  If you read the above summary, you'll see that  it is not.  Rather, it is the memoir of an old man.  I made it half-way through before calling it quits.  Frankly, if you have no connection with New Orleans, the first half will mean little to you.  Wolf included long lists of people he knew and with whom he associated.  The names mean something to me; being in the legal business, I'm familiar with many of the old New Orleans names.  I know the streets Wolf mentions and the school he attended.  

You might also like it if you want to remember your days at Yale, or if you wonder about life at Yale in the 1950's.  Wolf tells us about his dorm room, joining the student newspaper, and joining exclusive clubs.

Peter Wolf was raised as a non-observant reform Jew in suburban New Orleans.  The biggest social event his parents hosted every year was a Christmas party--the the rabbi was a regular guest.   He talks about his complete lack of religious belief and about how he, as a rich Jewish man, was discriminated against because he was not allowed to join the Carnival Krewes populated by the rich Uptown crowd.

Basically, the book has too much detail about things that are of little interest to me--some would have been interesting but I'd say the book is at least twice as long as it should be and there were a couple of times I think I read basically the same paragraph on different pages.  

Still, if you are looking for a picture of a particular time in New Orleans' history as viewed by a wealthy secular Jew who had deep roots in the community at large, this may be just what you are looking for.


  1. This reminds me- right now I'm reading The Accidental City, which fleshes out all the Louisiana history I learned as a kid.

  2. Oh no! Maybe I won't read this one after all. My connection to the city isn't that great. (


View My Stats