by Dave Eggers
published July 2009
The true story of one family, caught between America’s two biggest policy disasters: the war on terror and the response to Hurricane Katrina.
Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun run a house-painting business in New Orleans. In August of 2005, as Hurricane Katrina approaches, Kathy evacuates with their four young children, leaving Zeitoun to watch over the business. In the days following the storm he travels the city by canoe, feeding abandoned animals and helping elderly neighbors. Then, on September 6th, police officers armed with M-16s arrest Zeitoun in his home. Told with eloquence and compassion, Zeitoun is a riveting account of one family’s unthinkable struggle with forces beyond wind and water.
Photo and summary from Goodreads.com
You know, if I were to be honest I’m hesitant reading outside of the young adult genre. I want to, but (call me immature) I’m just so afraid everything that isn’t YA is going to be boring or complete fluff. I don’t know why I’ve developed such a hesitancy, especially since I’ve read SO many books that I loved that aren’t on the YA shelf, but still. I always have to give myself that extra push.
Now I’m here to tell you today, that this book was totally worth ignoring my first doubts. Don’t I sound like an infomercial? But wait! There’s more!
The thing that I loved about this book was it really got me out of my own head while I was reading it, and it made me angry. And frustrated. Especially towards the end. What’s that quote? “If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.” This book certainly makes you pay attention, and want to keep your eyes open.
Zeitoun deals a lot with two seemingly separate issues: being a Muslim in America post 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. When I first started I just figured the fact that the Zeitouns are Muslims was a great opportunity for Dave Eggers to cover two substantial topics he wanted to write about, and I was a little confused why he explored their faith SO MUCH. But, later on it made a TON of sense why he spent so much time discussing the Zeitouns’ faith. I’ll let you learn why yourself.
The story in general is riveting. Even though before I read this book I knew a fair amount coming in about Hurricane Katrina, I feel like it had something new to tell. There were a lot of things I hadn’t thought about before reading this book, one example being how if someone was going to use a boat with a motor to rescue people in houses post-hurricane, then that person would be less likely to hear someone trapped inside of a house calling out for help compared to someone who was traveling motor-less. It really made me think of just how in-depth you would have to think to effectively and efficiently take care of a situation like this. There were a TON of things that went wrong post-Katrina that I’m not going to get into here, and Zeitoun unfortunately suffered a lot because of it. What was good to read was at the end, Eggers included responses from some of the people who took part in allowing Zeitoun’s suffering, which helped me to understand a little more about why everything happened.
Above all, Zeitoun put a big emphasis on how a bunch of little things add up to a big thing. Eggers was very careful to show the chain of effect going on in this story and it is incredibly evident how if one or more of the actions carried out were slightly tweaked, they could have led to a way different result (for better or for worse!).
I’m pretty sure I’m rambling. This is what happens when I don’t do my numbered list!
Anyway, another thing that I liked a lot was how this book was told from Kathy’s perspective, who left New Orleans, and Zeitoun’s perspective, who had stayed. Both perspectives were painful to read at times because, to put it in the most eloquent of terms, the situation sucked. Hearing about Kathy trying to find out information about her husband, while still trying to keep it together for her daughter’s? It broke my heart. And watching Zeitoun lose parts of himself as the story progressed? Man. The two really grew on me, and so especially by the end of the book I wasn’t only sharing the general pain of Hurricane Katrina and all the mess that went on after, but I was able to feel a tiny tiny bit of their personal pain as they tried to find all their pieces and put them back together. And let me tell you, feeling a tiny tiny bit of their pain was more than enough.
All in all, I’m pretty sure my only big qualm was the amount of family history Eggers went into on Zeitoun’s side. I liked reading a lot of it, but the amount seemed a little excessive.
Ultimate Review: This is pretty much a must read– at least for Americans, especially those not directly impacted by the hurricane. The justice issues going on in the book are incredibly important to be aware of. It was pretty much appalling to read. But important. Plot wise for me: while it got slow sometimes with family history it was overall a page-turner.
Hey go here: Here is a Q&A with Dave Eggers concerning his work behind Zeitoun.