Acadiana: Louisiana’s Historic Cajun Country by Carl A. Brasseaux

Posted: March 26, 2011 in Book Reviews
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Acadiana

I’m native to Mississippi, but I am in love with Louisiana. I associate it with mysterious swamplands and sprawling cyprus trees dripping Spanish moss, peopled with an Acadian culture marked by fierce independence and a shared multi-cultural heritage. To me it’s one of the most romantic, beautiful and fascinating places on earth.

I’ve been to the state only once, during Mardi Gras as a teenager (an eye-opening experience.) I’m  told part of my family tree sprouted from New Orleans – via the founder of the now defunct Gibson’s department stores. And, of course, with that supposed legacy comes the ubiquitous palatial plantation home we could never locate to claim, due to incomplete records and the ineptitude of the county clerk. But could it have been any other way? Do you ever find out your family lived in a shack, deeply in debt, uneducated and missing most of their teeth? Of course not. No one wants to admit that. If it’s true or not I’ll likely never know.

And Zydeco music. I have a soft spot for it in my heart. There’s something about it, exuding raw  joy despite shared hardships, that lifts the spirit. It’s like jazz funerals in New Orleans. Through times of sadness and challenge a celebrative hopefulness lingers; a zest for life shines through. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow you may die. And in the meantime, don’t stop for tears.

When NetGalley offered up an eGalley of Louisiana’s Historic Cajun Country I pounced. The photography turned out to be stunning, as well as heartbreaking in an “I wish I could be there right now” way. Also, in an I wish I had a hard copy of this and not an eGalley, the better to appreciate the gorgeous shots. Because it isn’t quite the same looking at them on the computer. Good enough to recognize their beauty, but, well, you know. I’m not going into the eBook versus book debate, but suffice to say nothing satisfies like the original.

Taking a photo of a photo robs it of beauty, but when the original is so perfect maybe this will give you some idea what Philip Gould‘s shots are like. Just stunning.

IMG_6546

The well-researched history was so beautifully executed I didn’t realize how much I was being taught as I read. You know what I mean. While text books teach you the facts, very well-written works of history educate and entertain you along the way. If I hadn’t enjoyed the book so much I wouldn’t have read it through twice, something I almost never do. There’s just too much to read, too many books I’m committed to reviewing to take the time to read books through more than once. But Brasseaux’s prose took me on a journey I didn’t want to end.

And no wonder! Carl Brasseaux is an expert on Acadian culture, one of the leading authorities on French North America, having published thirty-three books related to the topic. He’s been editor and associate manager of the Center for the Louisiana Studies publication program, and I could go on and on. This doesn’t even scratch the surface. Suffice to say, he’s very well-qualified. Not surprising I found this work so entrancing.

The book covers the history of Acadiana from the earliest settlements up to the present, taking the story area by area: Pointe Coupée & Avoyelles Parishes, German/Acadian Coasts, Lafourche-Terrebone Area, Upper Prairie and Lower Prairie. Each  has its own distinct history, but as a whole share several things in common: great ethnic diversity, a landscape shaped by water, fertile soil, plantation or grazing land used largely for agriculture, eventual ethnic unrest and economic depression both following the Civil War and the devastation of the 1927 flood.

The depression following the Civil War brought on a severe labor crisis due to the end of slavery, complicated by the continued occupation of Acadiana by Union troops. Then came the yellow fever epidemic in 1867, hitting the area hard. Rice, planted instead of corn, helped dig them out of the hole they were in. Shortly after, the rail system and national roadways were built, followed by increased industrial development. Commerical hunters, exporting ducks and frog legs, added yet more of a boost.

Between WW II and the present, Acadiana made its way via war-time construction jobs, shipyards and the availability of French translators to help the war effort. More oil exploration provided many more jobs as the area became increasingly modernized.

Today Acadiana still has its own distinct flavor, though much of the French language and heritage has either been lost or morphed into what we now know as Cajun culture. What’s left is still distinctive, still recognizable as the culture of southern Louisiana, though by reading Brasseaux’s book the full story of the region’s past gives us an idea what changes it has gone through.

My verdict? This is a beautiful book, both for its stunning photography and thorough treatment of the history of Acadiana. Anyone interested in Cajun culture or the early history of southern settlement – including the Spanish influence – would find this book an essential addition to his or her library. It’s simply gorgeous.

Thanks to NetGalley.com for the opportunity to read and review this ebook.

  • Hardcover: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Louisiana State University Press (May 18, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0807137235
  • ISBN-13: 978-0807137239
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