Sarah M. Broom creates a tour de force memoir in The Yellow House. And truthfully, it’s so much more. It’s about her family, her childhood, and the house she grew up in. But it’s also about her home city, New Orleans, including the politics, the racial divide, and the events of Hurricane Katrina. And to be clear, Broom is from a part of the city called New Orleans East. It’s just beyond the tourist maps, so this isn’t a French Quarter tale.
Broom is the thirteenth child born to Ivory Mae, and her family is the core of this book. She tells about her grandparents, her parents, her many siblings. And woven throughout are the threads connecting all those family members to her. She especially focuses on the matriarchs, her mother and grandmother Amelia, or Lolo. Still, the men in the family are unique and in the case of her father, unknowable. He died six months before she was born.
Broom also talks about her work experiences. She spent a time working in Communications for former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. And she also goes to the African country of Burundi to work for a local non-profit. Adding in this wrinkle gives the fabric of her story an international feel, and it also connects New Orleans issues with broader political and human rights events.
Broom is a gifted writer and storyteller. She addresses wider inequities in our country and world, while mostly focusing on her own family. There are also smatterings of how she did the genealogy research, which interested me because we do that at our house. She talks extensively about the post-Katrina diaspora in her family. We know people in our area who went through similar relocations, so that brought it closer to home.
Despite their vast differences, I saw parts of my own mother’s mindset in Ivory Mae. Maybe it was the time period. But both mothers were so concerned about appearances, even as their homes disintegrated before their eyes. As daughters, both Broom and I left the hurricane-prone areas where our mothers lived. And we watched the news with bated breath every time one came across our mothers’ area. We tried to take care from a distance. This quote encapsulated Ivory Mae for me, “Sometimes elegance is just willpower and grace, a way to keep the flailing parts of the self together.” It sounds like my mother and also like the author herself.
The Yellow House is Broom’s effort to bring those various parts of herself together. She does a beautiful, poignant job in this memoir. It’s definitely a book I recommend, especially the audio version narrated by Bahni Turpin.
Pair with Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson, for a fictional account of growing up African American in an iconic city.