During the process of writing and then editing Landfall, I took care not to read any other books about Hurricane Katrina. I did an intense amount of research on the storm, its aftereffects, and the survivors in order to write my book, but I got all my information from news accounts, journalistic sources, and first-person interviews. It mattered to me that I not hew too closely to any other authors’ work or ‘hijack’ anyone else’s voice, even subtly. So I avoided Katrina novels and nonfiction narratives like the plague. One of the joys of finishing Landfall was the chance to finally read about that time and place as described by other talented voices. One of the most unique stories, penned by an uncommonly authoritative voice, is Sheri Fink‘s Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital which I finished just this past week.
Sheri’s perspective as both a physician and a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist makes her an ideal translator of the tale of alleged patient euthanasia that took place at the hands of medical professionals at Memorial Medical Center five days after the storm flooded and crippled one of New Orleans’ busiest downtown hospitals. Sheri awed me with her ability to gather, organize and present an abundance of material — medical notes, patients/families/staff perspectives, prosecutorial files, etc — without overwhelming her readership or allowing the humanity of any of the players to be subsumed by the emotional traction of other’s viewpoints.
This is compelling nonfiction at its best: replete with information but transmitted with the flow and ease of masterful storytelling. Jam-packed with relevant and timely questions about the value and quality of life and death that apply to each of us whether caught in a literal or figurative storm, this book is well worth a read.
Update: In April 2015, Sheri’s Five Days at Memorial was shortlisted for the PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award for Nonfiction. Congratulations, Sheri!