|Revisiting Katrina, seven years later|
Guardian National Correspondent
Published: Sep 01, 2012
Seven years ago, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in the southern United States, causing extensive damage, killing thousands and altering the history of Louisiana forever.
At the time stories of death, survival, resilience and destruction filled the media and were short-lived – however similar stories taking place during the storm and its horrifying aftermath in the dozens of fiction books published since ensure we continue to appropriately bear witness to the tragedy.
Such is the most recent book concerning the historical event, Jeff Todd’s “Storm of Hate”, which was released last week by The Key Publishing House Inc.
In Todd’s first novel, we learn the complex histories of a cross-section of characters – an interracial couple trying to negotiate their love, a seemingly ruthless businessman and his estranged daughter, and a SWAT team officer under physical, emotional and moral collapse as he watches over the Louisiana Superdome – whose paths cross in unexpected ways during Katrina’s landfall and aftermath.
In gut-wrenching scenes, Todd spares nobody as the stories unfold back and forth through time, making his readers face the unbearable truths about that moment in history, and about themselves.
“I think Hurricane Katrina revealed a huge hypocrisy in the U.S.,” says Todd. “It’s viewed as being very first world and a global leader – and I think the U.S. does stand for a lot of great things but I think it has some really horrible social problems that are always lingering beneath the surface that no one really addresses.”
“I think the hurricane exposed all of that,” he adds. “It takes something like that to strip away the polished gleam on the surface, and that’s what I’m interested in – the truth beneath it.”
It’s not surprising that the desire to uncover the truth in all of its messy glory drives Todd as a fiction writer, for it’s the exact same thing that drives him as a journalist. He now serves as the Business Editor of The Nassau Guardian after working in the field in Canada and the Middle East – but before all of that, he completed his studies of 20th Century British Literature in the United Kingdom in 2005, just in time to watch in horror as Katrina ravaged the gulf coast. It was then he resolved to complete a book that featured the historical hurricane.
“Storm of Hate” perfectly marries Todd’s love of literature and journalism – his characters are both his own and a mash of experiences taken by primary sources interviewed for his novel. The effect of that research shows in the palpable experiences shared by the characters as they struggle through the catastrophe, making the squalid landscape of the Louisiana Superdome or the haunting remains of the lower Ninth Ward post-storm the strongest and most absorbing points of the novel.
“Hurricane Katrina provided that extra push because I was so taken aback by some of the images I saw,” he says. “It was such a catastrophe on such a national and arguably international scale in terms of its impact. The hurricane became a facilitator for these characters that were already in my head.”
“I wanted to show the various ways people are impacted by adversity and how they react to it through diverse perspectives,” he says. “My whole idea is for it to be a tragedy and I didn’t want to create a fuzzy or pleasant picture with what happened because of the hurricane, because there isn’t one.”
Nevertheless, readers will find moments of hope and resilience ultimately shining through this fast-paced novel, and though they already know how the story of Hurricane Katrina ends, hopefully readers will discover something about themselves along the way.
“I hope my readers get absorbed,” says Todd “I hope secondly that they are reminded of what happened seven years ago and that we don’t forget what it said about us as a society and how we can improve ourselves.”
“I hope that they appreciate that these hypocrisies do exist within society and that we have to be aware of them all of the time – not just when something like this happens.”
• “Storm of Hate” is available to purchase online as a book or for your e-reader at Amazon.com, and will soon be available in local bookstores.