... forceful, rolling and many-chambered ... [Broom's] memoir isn’t just a Katrina story — it has a lot more on its mind. But the storm and the way it scattered her large family across America give this book both its grease and its gravitas ... This book is dense with characters and stories. It’s a big, simmering pot that comes to a boil at the right times ... This book is a mood. It starts slow, with layers of family history. The opening sections impart a sense of someone swinging the prop of an airplane, hoping the engine will fire. The author doesn’t make her first appearance, as a 5-year-old, until we are more than 100 pages in. But trust her. This book more than takes flight ... Broom does a masterly job of situating each of her family members as Katrina looms on the horizon ... There is some mildly portentous writing in The Yellow House, but for the most part Broom’s prose is alert and inquisitive. If the author remains at a certain distance at the end of this book, if she is somewhat unknowable, well, she’s had many other stories to tell, and to tell well ... This is a major book that I suspect will come to be considered among the essential memoirs of this vexing decade. There are a lot of complicated emotions coursing through its veins. It throws the image of an exceptional American city into dark relief.
...[an] extraordinary, engrossing debut ... Broom...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. It is an instantly essential text, examining the past, present and possible future of the city of New Orleans, and of America writ large ... 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 ... The interviews also yield unforgettable scenes ... 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 ... Broom’s deadpan humor comes through clearest in her descriptions of herself ... 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.
... extraordinary ... immediate, raw, sometimes profane and even funny ... Broom's memoir itself is a force that cracks open that little Yellow House and exposes the decades of life lived within ... Along with everything else it illuminates, The Yellow House offers a searing evocation of the long-term toxic consequences of shame ... solidly reconstructs what the forces of nature and institutionalized racism succeeded in knocking down.
If, like many visitors, you think the French Quarter is New Orleans, Broom has another story to tell you. It is a rich and deep one, not just the story of her own life (although that is a rich enough tale) but the story of several generations of her family and of the city that is indelibly their home, both before and after what Broom calls the Water ... Broom writes lovingly but unsentimentally about her family’s complex relationships ... Broom writes movingly about how her siblings reach out to help each other and their mother, and about the traumas that don’t entirely heal.
The Yellow House is a meandering and engaging history, captivating us as it covers vast terrain ... this work is more than a personal memoir. It is a mapping of a place and of a family, moving beyond the literal representation of space into the inner dimensions of the Brooms’ world, functioning as both an intimate and cultural history ... With the images, she creates the intimacy of flipping through a photo album, and she allows the people who experienced events to dictate the history ... The matriarch guides. This means that Sarah Broom is intentionally yielding part of the story to her sources ... Ms. Broom herself is adept at rendering the material world so that it exposes larger, symbolic implications ... Though the shifts between chapters can be momentarily jarring, those changes in topic are also this book’s strength ... We need more memoirs like this.
... both personal and sharply political; it’s an attempt to redraw not just the map of New Orleans but also the city’s narrative — to reset it on its foundation ... Meticulously observed and expansively researched ... These elder voices, thick with the rhythm and texture of time and place, are a chorus of narrators, the forebears who navigated a stratified, racially segregated map. They weigh in, testify, spin tangents. It’s the book’s music. Broom transports readers to postwar, Jim Crow-circumscribed black New Orleans, Uptown, to the Washington Avenue night spots where singer Ernie K. Doe performed ... luminous ... Broom’s work is a shoring-up, a strengthening. It’s the result of tenacious naming and claiming, revisiting all the histories — formal and informal, polished and rough. She worked with great care, and with a resolute honesty leavened with grace. Readers may hear echoes of James Baldwin in the relentlessness of her inquiry, and in the sinewy cadences of her sentences.
To plot...quiet truths that lurk beneath the surface of our myths is a process that requires a particular sense of cartography—one that implicates the people who have made us just as it does the places that deeply inform our sense of self. Broom’s The Yellow House reckons with this task as it tells a sprawling story of a house, a city, and a family ... At times Broom wades, perhaps a bit too deeply, into the ancillary occurrences of her chorus. She is at her sharpest when she confronts her own relationships to this house, in this city, and the tensions each site holds for her ... Sometimes, Broom concludes, you cannot return home with resolve, but rather only with questions to be answered. This book is Broom’s outpouring.
One of the year’s best memoirs, The Yellow House finds an epic, fascinating, empathetic history of New Orleans within the life of one woman, her family, and the home they grew up in ... The book is at once intimate and sprawling, spinning at times dozens of stories in what amounts to a vital reframing of a misrepresented community, and an urgent meditation on the American dream.
These passages stopped me cold. Not for their beauty or wisdom, although they certainly reflect these qualities. But there were so many other equally beautiful and wise passages throughout Broom’s moving 376-page narrative of personal, familial and place-based history. No, what stopped me was the knowledge that in delving deep into the complicated, sometimes exhausting specifics of the life and times of a single house, occupied by a single family over half a century, Broom has effectively told the story of black America in one fell swoop ... Reminiscent of Jesmyn Ward’s Men We Reaped and Kiese Laymon’s Heavy, Broom’s The Yellow House is only seemingly a personal memoir. At its core, it is a mythic rendering of the cost and brilliant tenacity of the American black family’s struggle to confront, wrestle with and resist destruction in 'the mouth of this dragon we call america,' as writer Audre Lorde says.
On every page, Broom makes visceral her longing for the resurrection of life on the wilderness that the streets surrounding her childhood home became after Hurricane Katrina ... a mirror of everyday life beyond the French Quarter, the highs of Mardi Gras celebrations and the lows of drunken visitors, eyes shut to the worst effects of Hurricane Katrina as well as the neglect that preceded the storm, to say nothing of that which followed ... With a heartrending examination of geography and how place shapes us, Broom recovers intersections of race and class by blending her family history with the city’s evolutions and regressions ... [Broom] infuses her prose with poetry and a hint of mysticism grounded in a history deeper and grander than any force of nature.
... evocative and startling ... What elevates this memoir from an account of growing up in and getting away from a crumbling house in a depressed neighborhood of a mythologized city is Broom’s language. Her descriptions are tactile and redolent, her observations stunningly astute. The writing itself conveys a dignity that permeates Sarah and her family members’ lives despite the tenuousness, and the poverty that hovered, threatening to engulf. You come to know and understand the inhabitants of the Yellow House, even as you come to know the ways in which the house shaped and defined them, and the ways it didn’t ... The section of the memoir that describes the impact of Hurricane Katrina on Broom’s family members is the most haunting. To read her brothers’ firsthand chronicles of harrowing escape, now, fourteen years after, is in some ways more profound for its distance and simplicity of fact ... The depth and nuance of this story is a tribute to Broom’s patience in waiting to tell it, in letting it nest so to speak, for more than a decade after the Water. This is a story that has marinated, steeped itself in time and distance and maturing black womanhood to emerge as an arresting narrative on its way to becoming a classic ... the story of Sarah M. Broom’s surviving, and thriving, which is to say the full emergence of her voice. You will want to hear everything she has to say.
Broom’s writing—intricate and prismatic as a honeycomb—is by turns tender, exacting, sweeping, and biblical ... The Yellow House is divided into four sections Broom calls 'movements.' The first, The World Before Me, is elegiac and dense with the histories of the people and places who compose Broom’s origins and is at times weighed down by its detail. But Broom’s next section vaults forward in time and plumbs different themes ... The story told in The Yellow House is as embedded in the way it is told as it is in its plot and characters ... The Yellow House’s complexity—its refusal to summarize, its reliance on exacting, painterly detail, patient contextualization, and infusions of tenderness and humor—is an insistence on a capacious black humanity ... Broom arranges her family’s stories of flight and survival into a collage of oral histories that resound like a chorus ... a masterwork of art and journalism, is about the grave mistakes of the twentieth century, washed ashore in the twenty-first. We may not survive the forthcoming floods. Broom’s memoir records how we might rebuild if we do.
... thoughtful, nuanced ... Broom has done an astonishing job stitching together the stories of her family, the history of the city and her investigations into how developers and governmental agencies contributed to her family’s situation, and she embroiders it with enough heart and drama to keep the reader awake at the night, eager to see the outcome.
An amalgam of reporting and lived experience, it’s a deeply personal and detailed history of family and place ... one of the most distinctive and important entries in the canon of New Orleans literature produced in the post-Katrina era. Broom writes from an insider’s perspective of loss and recovery, but she also frames her subjects, and herself, outside of catastrophe ... [Broom's] storytelling is imbued with layers and polysemy and explores themes of lineage, passage, and grief. She writes in detail of a time long before she was born, conceptualizing history as solid ground upon which to build the structure of her story.
Part scrapbook and part oral history, it is an expertly curated museum exhibit of Broom’s family history. It is also a portrait of New Orleans East across the last 100 years ... Broom expertly starts from a time before she was born, enabling her to narrate her own birth and her early years. Through archival research, interviews, and her memories, Broom weaves a story that is wholly hers, without neglecting the lives of the many characters around her, including her mother, siblings, neighbors, and friends ... The memories and family tales recounted range from small, deeply personal moments to the highly public and politicized ... The memoir-historiography hybrid is largely successful at creating an intricate narrative of family and place, but the four parts of the book feel disparate. They are written in different modes and the naming conventions of the short chapters are not consistent. At times, these structural elements do not feel precise or intentionally lawless, which distracts from the momentum of the story ... [Broom's] telling of her own story is a testament to what we have to hold onto after forces of nature destroy our lives: family lore, and the moments that hang in our memories.
... stirring ... a delightful, deft, familiar — and ambitious — foray into family dynamics and working-class gusto, a relatable story of the townies in a city overrun by, and dependent upon, tourists ... When Hurricane Katrina shatters their lives and scatters the family across the country, the book becomes far more urgent — and, I would argue, crucial ... Broom’s work here is an investigative reporter’s shaming story — from the profiteers who lured families to New Orleans East, to the failed Road Home recovery program that actually thwarted most residents’ returns — of our era’s messed-up priorities.
US reviewers praised the book for transcending the autobiographical genre, weaving together the past of a family, a city, and a nation, expanding 'the collective understanding of American history'. Her project and methods have been aligned with scholarly efforts in the last half-century to restore the record of experiences and legacies ignored or suppressed by a white-colonial perspective. While these are deserved accolades for a landmark achievement, they signpost no arduous journey for the reader ... Her strategy of allowing remembered remarks and scenes to speak for themselves has an especially striking effect in the portrayal of family members. An absence of the kind of condemnatory or approving appraisal that is often a driving feature of memoir generates a powerful sense of life – and of love, if the book were so sentimental – as a pattern of physical and psychical proximity ... In addition to the 'deadpan humour' noted by her US reviewers, Broom’s sentences generate an absorbing enjoyment. Culminating moments of indictment rise to an incantatory lyricism ... not a book to consult for political prescriptions. At times it might leave the reader wondering whether the inner workings of municipal governance could ever really be elusive to quite the degree that Broom suggests ... Without any outline of the nature of relations between the state and private enterprise, her conclusions about what ought to have been done differently can seem merely wishful. But the memoir remains an engrossing account of the concrete realities, and dangerous chimeras, of what its author resonantly calls 'an unequal, masquerading world'.
More than just a narrative about a family, it is a masterpiece of personal and social history, examining the devastating consequences of decades of government neglect and revealing the very weak foundations on which the American dream rests. Using oral history, forgotten pieces of journalism, photographs, deeds, and other artifacts, The Yellow House helps to fill in those painful 'silent leaps,' as Broom puts it, that fragment the history of her family and her home of New Orleans East ... By giving her family members space to tell their stories, Broom does far more than help knit this history back together ... Broom’s strengths as a writer are most obvious when she uses the story of the Yellow House not only to examine her family but also to analyze the history of black Americans in New Orleans. Her method reflects Trouillot’s observations about the role of structures in history making ... Broom’s intimate relationship with New Orleans only amplifies her sense of the importance of her role as a documentarian ... The power of [Broom's] book comes from just how successfully she navigates what it means to assert that claim and own a narrative at once unique to her family and yet common to many others in New Orleans. Sometimes her narrative deviates from its main story to the author’s existential questions and self-development in ways that can feel jarring. But that, too, is part of the point. One cannot write a memoir without a thorough, if sometimes awkward, self-interrogation. And throughout, Broom makes sure that we keep our eye on the book’s true protagonist: the yellow house.
Sarah M. Broom's gorgeous debut, The Yellow House, reads as elegy and prayer ... Sarah M. Broom is a writer of great intellect and breadth. She embraces momentous subjects. The Yellow House is about the relentless divestment of wealth from the African American family no matter how hard its members work; and our government's failure to protect its poor from predictable environmental catastrophe and subsequent trauma; and our gross neglect of poor neighborhoods; and sham promises that never materialize or are broken too easily, and the papering over of deep systemic problems by politicians and we the people. The Yellow House is also about the persistence of love and grit ... If Broom has bitten off the whole world and cannot quite swallow it, we can only hope she will continue to mine this material with the same sensitivity and insight demonstrated in The Yellow House. She understands her questions are 'at base, unanswerable' .... Nevertheless, we will eagerly await her further interrogations.
Loss is inescapable, but the earliest parts of the book are defined by the fullness Broom evokes rather than absence ... Broom is explicit in the ways colorism and racism shaped her family’s experiences—and by extension, the experiences of others in New Orleans East and beyond ... The Yellow House is a history of New Orleans as seen through one ordinary (amazing, funny and loving) family. Broom and her family’s powerful voices tell a story far removed from how popular culture views New Orleans, putting a finer point on Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath. In doing so, Broom cuts through what has become a well-known narrative and replaces rote fact with a human saga.
Broom’s memoir was written, it feels, with the Yellow House, the house she grew up in and which would later be destroyed in the storm, pointing fingers at her back ... The structural choice is one that creates a feeling of a coming wave. Reading through the first two movements, one can almost hear the rush of water approach ... a book that dwells in the places that shape us, haunt us, and upon which we leave a mark ... Broom presents a powerful eulogy to the places ruined by the storm, while highlighting the history and the racial inequities that made such a disaster possible.
... a meditation on family and loss that will speak powerfully to anyone who loves a place and seeks a stable foothold in our time of crisis and change ... testifies to the power of ferocious, omnivorous research and self-examination — with emotion pooling, swirling, returning, and settling like water — to set readers, as onetime New Orleans resident William Faulkner once said, in the heart in conflict with itself ... will make readers reflect on the fate of cities linked, historically and spiritually, to the water that bears economic opportunity and impending doom ... For me, a fellow Southerner-in-exile, Broom’s lingering guilt and compulsion to return resonate—so does the way that she’s always obsessed with the house, always keeping notes on something about to be lost, wrestling in advance with solastalgia and grief ... With Sarah Broom as your guide, this is a journey you’ll be glad you made.
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 ... 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 ... Recommended for all who enjoy family history or care to explore beyond the surface of place.
... honest and daring ... As Broom traces the house’s history from 1961 to, and beyond, its destruction, she also traces, or reveals, the emptiness of that dream, an emptiness that many millions across America have also realised in the years since ... This is not, to be clear, literary disaster porn. The author has other plans: 'to resurrect a house with words”' In so doing, she resurrects her city or, rather, presents it for the first time ... I must confess: early on during some of this detail, I jotted in the margins: “I personally really do not care about all this.” Should you feel the same, please continue. You will find, later, advice the author received from a French Quarter neighbour whose stories went on a little too long for Broom’s liking. “Jesus Christ, darling,” he would say. “Will you find some patience?” It is clear that the author found enough to write this important book. It is clear, also, that she rightfully demands the same of us. The Yellow House is a work that refuses to capitulate to your impatience – not out of an arrogant self-indulgence, but out of care. She seems to say: You will not get your entertainment at my people’s expense. This strikes me as rare, even brave. Many writers, or at least this writer, feel alienated from their family. But here is a writer who appears fully enmeshed in a family, in a clan, a system of interdependence and responsibility. One of the remarkable traits of The Yellow House, which makes it something larger than a personal narrative, is that the story is not fashioned from Broom’s voice alone. Her mother’s words are interspersed seamlessly with hers ... Sarah Broom has shown us a way to go back home, perhaps to heal
... evocative, addictive ... This capacious work captures more than the particulars of a place or a state of mind. It infiltrates the very state of the soul, revealing a way of life tourists never see or, as the destruction of the hurricane and the post-storm neglect would underscore, pay any mind ... one of the most fascinating features of the narrative is Broom’s subtle exploration of class distinctions within the African American communities of New Orleans ... a lyrical attempt to reconstruct home, to redraw a map that nature and a heartless world have erased. The melodies of Broom’s prose are insinuating, its rhythms as syncopated and edgy as the story she has dared to write. With a voice all her own, she tells truths rarely told and impossible to ignore.
... moving ... combines the most personal details with profound questions ... reads less like an assertion of rights than a declaration of love: for her mother, her siblings and their city ... The house itself may no longer stand, but in her book Ms Broom proudly opens its doors.
Broom bring[s] to the fore new tales of storied cities, restoring reality in the middle of folklore ... venerate[s] these kinds of experiences and the place where it occur[s], elevating and amplifying it as if to assert that the people who live, love, and have lost in these obscured coordinates are just as important, valuable, human as the iconic figures and events that created these cities’ popular legend ... For these women to re-inhabit these places, for these authors to write them into memory, compels us to contemplate their destruction and dismissal. For me to bear witness to the reckoning and remembering was an honor—and the closest I’ve come thus far to my own literary homecoming.
Broom presents a great, multigenerational family story in her debut memoir ... 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 ... Broom’s memoir serves as a touching tribute to family and a unique exploration of the American experience.
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.