Peter M. Wolf, now in his late 70s, is a widely respected architectural historian and authority on urban affairs. He has published several books on both subjects, but here he turns his attention to personal matters: the story of his own life, with particular emphasis on New Orleans, the endlessly beguiling city where he spent his boyhood, to which he returned as a young man but which he had to leave — so at least he believes — in order to find himself. “My New Orleans, Gone Away” is an uneven book that turns clunky when Wolf tries to write dialogue, but its best parts are engaging and at moments delightful.
Those parts, you will not be surprised to learn, are the ones about New Orleans, specifically the section called “Home Again,” in which Wolf returns to the Big Easy after a protracted Yankee education at Exeter and Yale, joins his father’s firm in the cotton trade, takes up lodgings on Burgundy Street at the edge of the French Quarter and hangs out at places the mere mention of which sends shivers of pleasure down my spine: Galatoire’s great restaurant, the Napoleon House, Audubon Park, Acme Oyster House, the quarter itself. I’ve never had the pleasure of living in New Orleans, but I’ve visited often, helped one of my sons and his wife restore a shotgun house in Uptown, and eaten marvelously at many of the famous places and a few known only to locals. In other words, I am close to the perfect reader for “My New Orleans, Gone Away,” and those best parts were for me almost as much pleasure as breakfast at Cafe Beignet or a po’-boy at Domilise’s.