A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
WINNER OF THE 2019 NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FOR NONFICTION
A brilliant, haunting and unforgettable memoir from a stunning new talent about the inexorable pull of home and family, set in a shotgun house in New Orleans East.
In 1961, Sarah M. Broom’s mother Ivory Mae bought a shotgun house in the then-promising neighborhood of New Orleans East and built her world inside of it. It was the height of the Space Race and the neighborhood was home to a major NASA plant—the postwar optimism seemed assured. Widowed, Ivory Mae remarried Sarah’s father Simon Broom; their combined family would eventually number twelve children. But after Simon died, six months after Sarah’s birth, the Yellow House would become Ivory Mae’s thirteenth and most unruly child.
A book of great ambition, Sarah M. Broom’s The Yellow House tells a hundred years of her family and their relationship to home in a neglected area of one of America’s most mythologized cities. This is the story of a mother’s struggle against a house's entropy, and that of a prodigal daughter who left home only to reckon with the pull that home exerts, even after the Yellow House was wiped off the map after Hurricane Katrina. The Yellow House expands the map of New Orleans to include the stories of its lesser known natives, guided deftly by one of its native daughters, to demonstrate how enduring drives of clan, pride, and familial love resist and defy erasure. Located in the gap between the “Big Easy” of tourist guides and the New Orleans in which Broom was raised, The Yellow House is a brilliant memoir of place, class, race, the seeping rot of inequality, and the internalized shame that often follows. It is a transformative, deeply moving story from an unparalleled new voice of startling clarity, authority, and power.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Sarah M. Broom’s memoir hits like a sudden storm after a dry spell—it’s disorienting, refreshing, and vital. The youngest of 12 children, Broom describes the looping tendrils of her family tree and reflects on growing up in the outskirts of New Orleans, only miles from Bourbon Street but light-years away from the city’s wealth and culture. At the book’s core is the yellow house of the title, a shotgun-style dwelling purchased by Broom’s mother. Both a refuge and a burden, the house remains a complicated piece of the family’s history even after its destruction. Reading The Yellow House was like making a beguiling new friend you want to know everything about.
Broom presents a great, multigenerational family story in her debut memoir. At its center is Broom's dilapidated childhood home a source of both division and unity in the family. Broom's mother, Ivory Mae, bought the house, located in New Orleans East, in 1961; the budding area then succumbed to poverty and crime in the late 1980s. Broom connects the house's physical decline to the death in 1980 of her father, Simon, who left many unfinished repair projects. The house had a precarious staircase, electrical problems, and holes that attracted rodents and cockroaches. Broom recalls living in an increasingly unwelcoming environment: "When would the rats come out from underneath the sink?" she wonders. Broom eventually left New Orleans she attended college in Texas and got a job in New York but returned after Hurricane Katrina. Through interviews with her brother, Carl, she vividly relays Katrina's impact on families. Broom is an engaging guide; she has some of David Simon's effortless reporting style, and her meditations on eroding places recall Jeannette Walls. The house didn't survive Katrina, but its destruction strengthened Broom's appreciation of home. Broom's memoir serves as a touching tribute to family and a unique exploration of the American experience.