The Tilted World by Tom Franklin and Beth Ann Fennelly

This was the first book I read during the 24in48 Readathon Challenge and it was a good choice to kick off 24 hours of reading – my favorite genre of historical fiction, but not too heavy, and with an intriguing Southern storyline.

It’s 1927. Prohibition Revenuers and the ever-rising Mississippi River are threatening to destroy the Mississippi Delta and its way of life. Childless Dixie Clay is a successful moonshiner’s wife. Her husband Jesse is reckless and violent and she believes he may be responsible for the disappearance of two federal agents who recently discovered their large still operation.

Ing and Ham are revenue agents sent by Secretary of Commerce Hoover to find the missing agents, arrest the moonshine makers and destroy the stills. They stumble upon a robbery scene with a wailing infant left behind. A former orphan himself, Ing feels obliged to take the baby and find it a home. Inevitably he ends up on Dixie Clay’s doorstep in the small town of Hobnob on the banks of the Mississippi.

The river continues to rise. The townspeople continue to try to secure the levee. Ham gets closer to finding out about the still operation and what happened to the other agents. Dixie and Ing fall in love. Jesse negotiates a deal with a group of wealthy New Orleans bankers to blow up levees along the Delta in an effort to keep the destruction of the rising river from ever reaching NOLA.

It was oddly déjà vu as I read: President Coolidge wasn’t there when the Mississippi Delta was destroyed by the Great Flood of 1927 – President Bush wasn’t there when New Orleans (NOLA) and the Mississippi Gulf Coast were destroyed by flooding and 2005’s Hurricane Katrina; Herbert Hoover led the Red Cross at the time of the 1927 flood and rode the publicity all the way to White House – Michael Brown led FEMA at the time of Katrina and rode the publicity all the way to unemployment.

There’s a point in the book where the authors allege that had the flood happened somewhere more affluent than the Mississippi Delta, the U.S. Government would have done more to save the area and its population. African-Americans who could used the flood to join what would later be coined the Great Migration and moved north. And it is true that the political elite decided that to save New Orleans, they would blow up the levee and basically destroy St. Bernard and Plaquemines Parish.

Similar accusations were made after Katrina – the wealthy French Quarter and the Port of New Orleans saw an almost instant flux of cash and assistance; to date there remain washed-out neighborhoods in the 9th Ward and thousands of African-Americans with no home to return to even if they could afford it. The Mississippi Gulf Coast, marginalized by the NOLA flooding yet which actually took the direct hit of Katrina, has yet to fully recover.

Both natural disasters were record breakers that forever changed the demographics and landscape of America.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.


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