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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

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