Oleander City: A Novel Based on a True Story

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Perhaps best known for his unflinching nonfiction, Matt Bondurant’s latest novel, Oleander City, capitalizes on the same strengths to weave a fictional account of one of the most horrific natural disasters in American history.

When the Galveston hurricane of 1900 descended upon the city, it did not discriminate. The aftermath of the destruction, however, was fraught with racial tensions and class divides that threatened to undermine any potential renewal or repair. Told through several different points of view, Bondurant’s novel looks at the effect of that horrific event on children, the KKK, the women of the newly formed Red Cross who’ve come to assist with the relief effort, and Joseph Choynski, a Jewish boxer contracted to fight Jack Johnson, a Black “hometown hero” known as the Galveston Giant. The book includes the stories of these people and their attempts to find peace, safety, and a way forward in the wake of a storm that took upwards of 10,000 lives.

The chapters that focus on Hester, a child survivor of the storm, and Diana Longstreet—the second in command to Clara Barton in the Red Cross—are by far the most compelling in the book. As their stories begin to intertwine, greater commentaries about family are woven into the text. The boxers and their plight forward the story of the racial tensions at the time, but they often felt like they could be their own separate book.

Overall, if you’re a historical fiction fan, Oleander City is a well-executed take on one of the most fatal days of the last century.

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Star Count 4/5
Format Hard
Page Count 250 pages
Publisher Blackstone Publishing
Publish Date 14-Jun-2022
ISBN 9798200831166
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Issue August 2022
Category Historical Fiction