After rescuing handwritten journals from antebellum New Orleans, Shaik learns the little-known history of Société d'Economie et d'Assistance Mutuelle, a mutual aid society founded by a group of the city's free people of color. In this history, she follows Ludger Boguille, his family and friends through landmark events—from the Haitian Revolution to the birth of jazz—that shaped New Orleans and the United States.
... a compelling work [that] involves both painstaking research and serendipity ... The history...is powerful in the way that only the most ordinary things can be powerful ... Shaik has done prodigious and fascinating research on the lives of various members, and on antebellum life in general ... We also get a visceral portrait of how ubiquitous slavery once was, with slave sales taking place on sidewalks and holding pens fouling residential streets ... one of the pleasures here is seeing how many intriguing topics are relevant to this story ... For the most part, this information is woven together smoothly. In a few instances, however, these smaller histories could be clearer. And the extent to which Shaik speculates about various historical matters becomes an issue occasionally. But these quibbles hardly detract from the pleasures and importance of this book. The gift of Economy Hall is that it memorializes a once-active society that was swept up in—and tried to steer—some of the most pivotal events in New Orleans.
... intriguing ... Shaik painstakingly recounts Economie meetings, translating the society’s minutes from the original French. While the author’s fidelity to her primary source material is commendable, it does result in some passages being overloaded with specifics that feel insignificant relative to the book’s larger narrative arc. Ultimately Shaik is most successful when placing the Economie’s chronology within a broader context.