Synopses & Reviews
From the acclaimed author of Pretty Little Dirty
("a first novel of complex truth and beauty"--San Francisco Chronicle
), comes a glittering, gritty, and unflinching story of five families--black, white, and Indian--living along one block of Uptown, New Orleans.
It is the summer of 2004, and Orchid Street is changing. Newcomers Ariel May and her husband, Ed, relocated from Minnesota, are trying to make sense of the Southern city. From her front porch, Philomenia Beauregard de Bruges watches her new neighbors, the Guptas, as they move into one of the biggest homes. Across the way, Daniel Harris, aka Fearius, has just been released from juvenile detention. And Cerise Brown, a longtime resident now in her late seventies, hopes only to pass the rest of her days in peace.
But with one random accident, a scene of horror on Cerise's front lawn, the whole neighborhood converges on the sidewalk to help, to cast blame, and to offer hope. And as Hurricane Ivan churns his way toward the city, bringing a different series of challenges, these new relationships tighten, intertwining the families' paths for better and for worse.
Told in five achingly real voices, Babylon Rolling is the story of one year on Orchid Street, a place where lives clash and collide, and where the humid air is charged with constant wanting. Offering a bold understanding of human nature and the hidden prejudices we harbor, Babylon Rolling is a powerful portrait of racism in America and a city on the edge of transformation.
"Former contortionist and trapeze artist Boyden (Pretty Little Dirty) invokes an array of New Orleans voices on Uptown's Orchid Street. Daniel Harris, a smalltime teenage drug dealer who goes by 'Fearius,' hopes '[t]oday gone be his day' and the coming Hurricane Ivan will drive junkies into a stockpiling frenzy. Although his voice more often mimics street patois than evokes his character, language crystallizes with character in his white neighbor, the 57-year-old Philomenia Beauregard de Bruges, who seeks to divest her neighborhood of undesirables. Orchid Street's Minneapolis transplants, Ed Flank and Ariel May, meanwhile, struggle to maintain a family in an American Babylon that batters and woos with delights and disasters. Into the mix move the Guptas, an Indian family who have a difficult time breaking the ice. Though it could lose some extraneous passages, the book's nuanced story of people who 'choose to live... inside the big lasso of river' reveals a side of the Crescent City not often seen in fiction." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
From the author of "Pretty Little Dirty" comes a gritty, unflinching story about the clash of race and culture in the intersecting lives of five families who call the same New Orleans street home.
About the Author
Amanda Boyden was born in Minnesota and raised in Chicago and St. Louis. Formerly a circus trapeze artist and contortionist, she earned her MFA from the University of New Orleans, where she now teaches writing. Her first novel, Pretty Little Dirty was published in 2006.
Reading Group Guide
1. Describe the structure of Babylon Rolling
. Though the novel moves forward chronologically, the story jumps from one family to another. Why do you think the author chose a third-person narration with varying voices for each family? Was there ever a moment when you were surprised to learn which character was narrating? If so, why do you think the author would choose ambiguity over clarity. How are the prologue and the epilogue set apart from the rest of the text?
2. Why do you think the author chose Babylon Rolling as the title, and how does it embody the tone and atmosphere of the novel? What does the title signify?
3. What does the city of New Orleans represent for the various characters? How is the city different for longtime residents Cerise and Philomenia and for newcomers Ariel and Indira? Is the city different for the men in the novel as opposed to the women? How and why?
4. Discuss the five families residing on Orchid Street and the various tensions within each house. How are the needs, desires, and tensions in each house different from their neighbors'?
5. During the year, their first full year in New Orleans, what happens to Ariel and Ed's marriage? Why is it falling apart? What brings them together in the end?
6. Describe the other marriages in the novel, and compare and contrast them to Ariel and Ed's. Compare the relationship of longtime married residents Cerise and Roy to that of Philomenia and Joe. What makes one so successful and happy, and the other not?
7. Explore and discuss the theme of companionship in Babylon Rolling. Does Ariel have any female friends? Why is this important to the novel? Describe how her anger seems to subside when she calls and befriends Sharon Harris. How about Philomenia? Does she have any friends, male or female? Discuss the friendship that develops between their husbands, Ed and Joe. How is this male friendship crucial to the novel? Also discuss how companionship is important for all the families in the novel.
8. Why does Ariel betray Ed? What other betrayals occur in the novel? Does Fearius betray his family? How about Philomenia and Joe? Who's betraying whom in their relationship? How about Ed's daily visit to the bar? Is he betraying his children? And what about Shane and Philomenia? Is there a trust between them that it broken? Are any of the betrayals justified?
9. Discuss the theme of forgiveness in Babylon Rolling. Who asks for forgiveness? Who gives it? And who do you think deserves it? If you were in any of the characters' situations, would you be able to forgive?
10. What happens to Fearius over the course of the year? How does the author make him a sympathetic character despite his flaws?
11. What kind of mother is Ariel? Describe the other mothers in the novel--Sharon, her daughters, Cerise, Marie, Indira. Do you think being a mother defines any of them? What sorts of relationships does each have with their children?
12. On the flip side, what kind of father is Ed? Does this change over the course of the novel? Do you think being a father defines him? How about the other fathers in the novel?
13. Food and cooking is crucial to this novel. Can you remember any descriptions of food? Why does Ed eat the Browns' food after the accident with the grill? How is baking and cooking therapeutic for Philomenia? How is it also her downfall?
14. There are a number of accidents and illnesses on Orchid Street during the year. how do the illnesses (Joe's cancer, Philomenia's disease) and the accidents at the beginning and the end of Babylon Rolling both divide and unite the neighbors on the street?
15. What does the novel say about race in America today? Early on, Ariel comments that "racial issues and cultural issues can be completely separate," and she proceeds to complain about cultural issues and differences. Do you agree with her? Give some examples of both racial issues and cultural issues.