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Jake Halpern: Braving Home: Dispatches From The Underwater Town, The Lava-Side Inn, And Other Extreme Locales


Braving Home: Dispatches From The Underwater Town, The Lava-Side Inn, And Other Extreme Locales

Author: Jake Halpern
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

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There's a lot of truth to the saying "Home is where the heart is," but for the five subjects of Jake Halpern's unusual travelogue Braving Home, the converse is just as true: Their hearts sit planted in their home. A former fact checker and junior staffer at The New Republic, Halpern stumbled on an unusual beat early in his career–investigating remote, usually dangerous locales and the people who live there. He began with the underwater town of Princeville, North Carolina. A former haven for freed slaves, Princeville became a proper town at the end of the Civil War, withstood prejudice, and survived a symbiotic relationship with a nearby white community, becoming one of the oldest black towns in the U.S., only to be washed away by Hurricane Floyd in 1999. The town was located dangerously below the flood line, and rebuilding it seemed foolhardy, but that didn't stop determined resident Thad Knight from returning each day to lead some semblance of a normal life on the remains of his old home. In the process, he helped determine his town's fate. If Braving Home has an emblem, it's Knight, whose deep connection with his home resists easy explanations about history and habit. Halpern begins his book with some theoretical talk of "place identity," but he largely illustrates by example, letting his subjects tell their own stories and explain themselves on their own terms. Where the residents of Whittier, Alaska–a port town situated almost entirely inside one 14-story tower–or the hurricane-dodging citizens of Grand Isle, Louisiana, could easily be reduced to wacky one-column items, Halpern gets to know them. It might seem insane to stay in an abandoned Hawaiian subdivision surrounded by lava, like Jack Thompson, proprietor of a bed-and-breakfast for adventure-seekers, but Halpern discovers that the life suits Thompson better than any other could. Like Halpern's other subjects, Thompson knows his place is home because it's the only place he fits.