More than a tale of one heinous tragedy, Fieseler, by way of meticulous research and survivor interviews, enlarges the scope of his history to create a sadly damning account of the workings of homophobia and the closet at that time in American history. Fieseler analyzes his tale from many angles, in the process of which he succeeds in indicting the failures of many institutions ... Fieseler is especially to be commended for the masterful way he weaves the threads of his narrative into a richly provocative and compelling story ...
This is a sobering story, one that exposes unspeakable trauma, pain, and emotional shock. It is fraught with human frailty, moral weakness, evil, and bigotry. The twists and turns of fate and coincidence, the lessons of bravery and kindness, and the blatant instances of deceit and intolerance, made me lean forward and take notice ... Any good book is an awakening of sorts, and as good books go this was certainly that, but beyond that, Tinderbox was for me a moment of true epiphany and self-reckoning; primarily through its cathartic bridging of the closeted gay past, the AIDS years, the social advances of the early 2000s, and the gay present. This was a book which reaffirmed and renewed in my own heart the quest, the yearning for dignity and justice in my homeland.
The book is loving, sensitive and diligent. It is also overstuffed, unfocused and vexing. When I say Tinderbox should be taught in journalism schools, I mean it as praise and rebuke. There is smart media criticism in these pages. Fieseler examines how the tragedy was covered (or more usually ignored), tracing newsroom attitudes toward homosexuality and the euphemisms used to report on gay life ... Why does this seem like an energetic impression of a book? The anxious, frantic shifts make it feel as if he is constantly trying to please someone reading over his shoulder.
Fieseler’s fully sourced research correct[s] the record of shoddy crime work by both the New Orleans police and federal investigators ... Fieseler condenses a lot of history of The Big Easy, which wasn’t so easy for everybody and its conflicted image as a gay mecca, but otherwise was a completely oppressed community. Tinderbox paints a vivid picture of the (in)visible gay community of about 400,000 strong, but where a gay person could still be arrested for even the suspicion of being gay or their names were printed in the paper if a bar was raided, people could be fired from their jobs, and routinely barred from many professions. Fieseler does invaluable investigative reporting of the social landscape of the era and writes with sensitivity about the many victims of the fire, their lovers, their families, their survival and the profound effect it had on GLBTQ community in NOLA ... Tinderbox is a reminder that this history can never be forgotten as the backlash against GLBTQ civil rights are once again under attack.
Largely forgotten for many years, this tragedy has now been brought to vivid life by Fieseler, who has done a remarkable job of research in telling the story of an event that would help give rise to the LGBTQ rights movement in New Orleans ... Attention must be paid, and Fieseler has done a laudable job of insuring that it will be. His inspiring account is an important contribution to LGBTQ literature.
...beautifully written and often devastating ... [Fiesler] teases out the many threads and, with the benefit of hindsight, situates the Up Stairs Lounge in terms of the burgeoning national gay movement as well as in local politics. Fieseler also effectively conveys the long-term trauma experienced by survivors of the fire, who were either outed as gay through seeking treatment for their injuries, or had to hide their grief during the aftermath ... This is an important book when it comes to understanding the history of LGBT liberation, both nationally and on a local scale in New Orleans. Highly recommended for all library collections, particularly public libraries where there is interested in true crime and LGBT issues.
...page after page of stomach-twisting details of death by fire and the horror of publicly burning alive. Author Robert W. Fieseler shares the details, and they are indeed wretched. That’s only part of the shock of this book. It continues with the controversy within religious organizations, gay-friendly and otherwise, and details the birthing pains of activism that seem as painful to read as they must’ve been in life. As he’s telling the story, Fieseler continues to remind readers that officials seemed not to care about solving this crime ... Through all this, Fieseler asks—and answers—why we know so little about this tale. His answers are multitudinous, compassionate, important in a historical context, and emotional ... Tinderbox makes this tragedy one that you won’t likely forget.
Journalist Robert W. Fieseler salvages [an] unsettling moment in American history from the edge of forgetfulness in a remarkable, potent remembrance.... It's indescribably moving to learn in a final author's note that survivors hesitant to speak on the record for Tinderbox came forward with urgency after the Pulse massacre. Their testimonies, Fieseler's rigorous research and his amiable prose make this a vital, inspiring volume in the annals of gay history.
...very moving ... As in so many
books with a large cast, you find
yourself going back to the opening chapters to be reminded of who some
of them are, but after a while you find
yourself following the few who interest you most ... The description of the fire,
pieced together bit by bit from interviews with survivors and archival
research, is so painstakingly done that it’s hard to read ... eloquent ... haunting.
...remarkable ... The book is a remarkable feat of reporting ... It is also an impressive work of history, placing the tragedy at the Up Stairs Lounge in the context of its era. Finally, it is an important work of memory, showing how powerful institutions – media, legislators, and city authorities – shared an interest in suppressing the tragedy, and giving the story its rightful place in America's national story.
Fieseler's work is an essential piece of historical restitution that takes us from 1973 to 2003, when homosexuality was finally decriminalized in Louisiana. Powerfully written and consistently engaging, the book will hopefully shed more light on the gay community's incredible and tragic journey to equality. A momentous work of sociological and civil rights history.
Though Fieseler’s prose leans toward overreach—'Humidity, so thick with vapor that breathing air could feel like crying tears, would almost routinely reach 100 percent'—his attention to detail and intricate exploration of the material is spot-on. Fieseler shines a bright light on a dark and largely forgotten moment in the history of the gay rights movement.