HARPERCOLLINS, RRP $33
Sydney architecture graduate Amanda Darby may think she’s a rebel but she’ll do anything to please her Nan, including not questioning her about the accident that killed her parents when she was two years old. Then, suddenly, Nan dies, opening the door to Amanda’s alternate life, had she grown up with her parents in New Orleans. In America, Amanda discovers her paternal grandmother Ruby, the jazz that defined her father and her parallel identity as Amandine Lalande. There’s something of the ingenue to Amanda as she gulps in the decadent decay and verdant gardens of the Garden District. But, like the reader, she becomes a spectator as Ruby opens up about her colourful and painful past. In her 20s Ruby worked as a burlesque dancer to save her mother from abject poverty — the upside being her dazzling costumes designed by Australian Orry-Kelly — and had a secret affair with an African-American when segregation and violent racism still gripped the Deep South. Amanda reclaims a few chapters to meander into modern-day New Orleans with love interest Elliot, a music professor who takes her to meet old friends of her father, but she doesn’t get to assert herself until the climax when the Lalande family is caught in Hurricane Katrina. The term “sweeping saga” might be a cliche but it’s the best way to describe this novel, which doesn’t let social ills, racism, death and negativity bog down a buoyant story with lots of juicy revelations.
Verdict: romance and all that jazz