In April of this year I had the opportunity to spend four glorious days in that queen of cities, New Orleans. One of the highlights of the trip, as recorded in my New Orleans Journal Episode One and Episode Three, was staying at the magnificent River House in the Faubourg Marigny and meeting the charming and delightful owners, David Lummis and Csaba Lukacs, who personally restored the home to its present glory. So fascinating were the proprietors and so beautiful was the garden at River House that my friend Randy and I were loath to leave River House and walk the few blocks to the Vieux Carre. To add whipped cream to the cappuccino or the confectioners sugar to the beignet, David Lummis told us that his debut novel The Coffee Shop Chronicles of New Orleans: Part 1 was in the final stages of editing and would be available in late May. (see my review this week on Swampland)
On Satuday, June 26, David was interviewed by Rick Rockhill of Palm Springs Savant and Company talk radio out of Palm Springs, California. The following paragraph is a synopsis of that interview.
David told Rick Rockhill that prior to Hurricane Katrina he had envisioned his novel as a rather light and fluffy "tales of the city," but that in the months following Katrina the book began to seem self-indulgent and meaningless. So when he returned to New Orleans after two months of exile (the evacuation), he completely changed the direction of the novel. The tumultuous two weeks prior to Katrina became the setting for the novel and a metaphor for the emotional storm in the life of the protagonist, B. Sammy Singleton. David commented that he felt a need to immortalize the city that had given him so much and which was nearly taken away. Like Sammy, David has a fascination for coffee shops and a deep love of the city of New Orleans, a city rich with culture where colorful characters "wear their eccentricities on their shoulder."
When my copy of The Coffee Shop Chronicles arrived last month, hot off the press of River House Publishing, I could not wait to read it. I am thrilled to say that the novel exceeded all my expectations. I knew that the book would be good, but I just did not know how good. One is always a bit leery of first novels. However, I can name over a dozen first novels without even thinking that rank among the all-time greats: Look Homeward, Angel; A Confederacy of Dunces; Gone with the Wind; To Kill a Mockingbird; The Bell Jar; Invisible Man;; Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood; and Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe--and these are only a few.
Upon receiving the first draft of my review, David's response was much like the comments of our recently appointed poet laureate W.S. Merwin,, that he hoped readers would be "touched" by his work. Yesterday in an interview with NPR's Melissa Block, W.S. Merwin, 17th poet laureate of the United States, said about his poems: " I think about them at a distance afterwards as maybe they will speak to somebody else, because a poem is such a one on one thing, you know. You may have an audience but still, everybody in the audience hears it individually and hears it in a particular and a distinct and individual way."
When David wrote back to me about my review, he said "...your comparisons to Huck [The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn] and Wolfe [Look Homeward, Angel] in particular moved me since in my deepest heart those were chords I hoped to strike in the hearts of others. I also adore the Toole [A Confederacy of Dunces] comparison, since all along the way I've sort of envisaged poor Sammy [his protagonist] as a modern-day Ignatius with the key difference (as you shall see in Part 2) of being able to change/redeem himself. In my wildest dreams I've also fantasized it might have some kind of impact...in terms of lifting awareness."
David Lummis, who was born in Paducah, Kentucky, (which will be featured in Part 3 of The Coffee Shop Chronicles), lived in New York City until he moved to New Orleans, the "Paris of the South." There he and his life partner Csaba Lukacs, whom he met in NoLa in 1991, began restoring the exquisite Creole mansion "River House" in Faubourg Marigny. Csaba himself has multiple degrees including a Masters Degree in Science from Budapest, Hungary, (with a specialty in tissue culture) and a Masters of Fine Art (with an emphasis in film and screen writing) from the University of New Orleans. For more information on Chronicles, go to the Coffee Shop Chronicles Facebook page .
Although Chronicles is David's first novel, he is no stranger to the publishing world. As a internationally known consumer market analyst (who happens to have studied at the Sorbonne and finished at Yale University with a major in French), David has published a book on retailing and has written, as well as edited, numerous articles and syndicated market reports, including on the USA coffee market. This last topic brings us to the novel, The Coffee Shop Chronicles of New Orleans in which the protagonist B. Sammy Singleton has received a generous advance to write a book on, you guessed it, the coffee shops of New Orleans. What happens next is, as Huckleberry Finn said about The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, "is all told about in that book, which is mostly a true book, with some stretchers, as I said before." So, in order to find out what happens, I encourage you to purchase a copy of The Coffee Shop Chronicles.
Copies of The Coffee Shop Chronicles of New Orleans may be found in several New Orleans bookstores as well as the Sundog bookstore in Seaside, Florida, or you may order directly fromThe Coffee Shop Chronicles website . You may even request that your copy be signed if you order from the website.
You should order the book right now. You can also read it on Kindle. The time for summer reading has arrived.
PS---The Coffee Shop Chronicles of New Orleans was just named by the Times Picayune as one of the "hot reads" for August.. Read David's blog for the Maple Street Book Shop in New Orleans.
---Penne J. Laubenthal
Ain't No City Like New Orleans
New Orleans: Culture, Cuisine, and Coffee Shop Chronicles
Soutthern Literature: Roots and Branches