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My New Orleans, Gone Away    by Peter M. Wolf order for
My New Orleans, Gone Away
by Peter M. Wolf
Order:  USA  Can
Delphinium, 2013 (2013)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Carrol Wolverton

Maybe Some of My New Orleans Needed to Go Away ...

Yale literature grad and art history PhD Peter Wolf recounts his youth in New Orleans and its Old South ways. His deeply personal memoir provides detailed descriptions of places, people, and events as he saw them and describes buildings down to the tiles on the walls. His former home is long gone with Katrina as is much of the French Quarter that he loved.

His Jewish heritage fed deeply into his early experiences and left deep furrows. As his parents were often gone in their own social circles, this sensitive child felt isolated and alone. His introspective, perceptive ways provide the value in this book.

His family were Reformed Jews, which meant that they were Americanized. They celebrated Christmas with vigor with all the trimmings, minus Baby Jesus. Even the local Rabbi appeared at their yearly Christmas Day party. Peter was supposed to be confirmed, not bar mitzvahed. He fell short here because his family were simply not observant Jews. They were all major achievers, however, and contributed greatly to the area economy as cotton merchants and brokers. His mother's side was related to the retailers who owned the big stores downtown.

The underlying current in this book is his feeling of separation from other groups in New Orleans. Even though very successful, his family was not invited into certain country clubs, even though they lived in affluence on the golf course bordering one of them. They were not included in any of the exclusive Mardi Gras supporting clubs run by the overwhelming Catholic culture. His family still lived well and enjoyed New Orleans but from a slightly different angle. This discrimination bothered Peter.

He does mention his household staff repeatedly because he spent so much time with them while growing up. The help was just that. They all had first names only. This was the way it was. It was also the way it was with his Jewish relatives, and was accepted. Maybe some of the old New Orleans needed to go away. He saw some of this at Yale as well, the Yale that had an unspoken quota of 15% Jewish admission. He made the cut and achieved admirably.

I would point out to author Wolf that discrimination remains today on many levels and in many subtle ways. The overwhelming Catholic New Orleans excluded his family from inner social circles. I was stunned as a child when I was excluded as a Catholic child from a Protestant gathering in my own hometown. I was equally dismayed as an adult when a customer explained to me by way of analogy that it was like not dating a Catholic girl because one might fall in love. Her reaction when I told her I was Catholic was priceless. In short, Mr. Wolf, you are not alone.

I would also point out that women now earn 82 cents on the dollar compared to men. How did his abundant dark-skinned household help feel when confronted with those abominable White Only signs? The author came of age in the 50's, not all that long before the racial explosions of the 60's.

Discrimination continues on many levels and in many forms. As with Yale, more education breeds it more subtly. It also breeds thought provoking memoirs such as this. New Orleans will rebuild, hopefully on a more firm basis. As it rebuilds and we become increasingly educated and integrated, it is hoped that more and more will question, evaluate, and reconsider, and that even more of the unfortunate parts of My New Orleans Gone Away will go away.

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