Arts & Culture

Book reviews

View full image

My New Orleans, Gone Away: A Memoir of Loss and Renewal
Peter M. Wolf ’57

Delphinium Books, $24.95

Reviewed by Bruce Fellman

Bruce Fellman is a contributing writer to the Yale Alumni Magazine.

On that terrible Monday, August 28, 2005, key New Orleans levees failed, in what Peter Wolf calls “the worst civil engineering disaster in US history.” Though Wolf had moved away from his hometown years earlier, the Hurricane Katrina catastrophe had a deeply personal impact. “Parts of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast that shaped my early drives, as well as my talents and tastes and habits, [were] vanishing,” he writes. His response produced, ultimately, this rich and graceful memoir.

Wolf, an expert in land planning, urban policy, and asset management, grew up in New Orleans and has deep roots there. Part of this book is a fascinating history of his family ties to the place, starting in Europe in the early nineteenth century with Leon Godchaux and Julius Weis, “two penniless young boys” who managed to scrape together the fare to cross the Atlantic. They struck it rich—in sugar plantations, the cotton brokerage business, and the world of retail—and became the founders of Wolf’s extended family. In the more personal chapters, Wolf writes candidly about his own sometimes difficult relationships with this family, the deep connections made with some of his classmates at Yale, and his reexamined connection with the city he left as a young man.