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.
A New York Times Notable Book
An O, The Oprah Magazine Terrific Read of the Year
A Huffington Post Best Book of the Year
A New Yorker Favorite Book of the Year
A Chicago Tribune Favorite Nonfiction Book of the Year
A Kansas City Star Best Book of the Year
A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year
An Entertainment Weekly Best Book of the Decade
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Sold by:||Random House|
|File size:||3 MB|
About the Author
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Read an Excerpt
FRIDAY AUGUST 26, 2005
On moonless nights the men and boys of Jableh, a dusty fishing town on the coast of Syria, would gather their lanterns and set out in their quietest boats. Five or six small craft, two or three fishermen in each. A mile out, they would arrange the boats in a circle on the black sea, drop their nets, and, holding their lanterns over the water, they would approximate the moon.
The fish, sardines, would begin gathering soon after, a slow mass of silver rising from below. The fish were attracted to plankton, and the plankton were attracted to the light. They would begin to circle, a chain linked loosely, and over the next hour their numbers would grow. The black gaps between silver links would close until the fishermen could see, below, a solid mass of silver spinning.
Abdulrahman Zeitoun was only thirteen when he began fishing for sardines this way, a method called lampara, borrowed from the Italians. He had waited years to join the men and teenagers on the night boats, and he'd spent those years asking questions. Why only on moonless nights? Because, his brother Ahmad said, on moon-filled nights the plankton would be visible everywhere, spread out all over the sea, and the sardines could see and eat the glowing organisms with ease. But without a moon the men could make their own, and could bring the sardines to the surface in stunning concentrations. You have to see it, Ahmad told his little brother. You've never seen anything like this.
And when Abdulrahman first witnessed the sardines circling in the black he could not believe the sight, the beauty of the undulating silver orb below the white and gold lantern light. He said nothing, and the other fishermen were careful to be quiet, too, paddling without motors, lest they scare away the catch. They would whisper over the sea, telling jokes and talking about women and girls as they watched the fish rise and spin beneath them. A few hours later, once the sardines were ready, tens of thousands of them glistening in the refracted light, the fishermen would cinch the net and haul them in.
They would motor back to the shore and bring the sardines to the fish broker in the market before dawn. He would pay the men and boys, and would then sell the fish all over western Syria - Lattakia, Baniyas, Damascus. The fishermen would split the money, with Abdulrahman and Ahmad bringing their share home. Their father had passed away the year before and their mother was of fragile health and mind, so all funds they earned fishing went toward the welfare of the house they shared with ten siblings.
Abdulrahman and Ahmad didn't care much about the money, though. They would have done it for free.
Thirty-four years later and thousands of miles west, Abdulrahman Zeitoun was in bed on a Friday morning, slowly leaving the moonless Jableh night, a tattered memory of it caught in a morning dream. He was in his home in New Orleans and beside him he could hear his wife Kathy breathing, her exhalations not unlike the shushing of water against the hull of a wooden boat. Otherwise the house was silent. He knew it was near six o'clock, and the peace would not last. The morning light usually woke the kids once it reached their second-story windows. One of the four would open his or her eyes, and from there the movements were brisk, the house quickly growing loud. With one child awake, it was impossible to keep the other three in bed.
Kathy woke to a thump upstairs, coming from one of the kids' rooms. She listened closely, praying silently for rest. Each morning there was a delicate period, between six and six-thirty, when there was a chance, however remote, that they could steal another ten or fifteen minutes of sleep. But now there was another thump, and the dog barked, and another thump followed. What was happening in this house? Kathy looked to her husband. He was staring at the ceiling. The day had roared to life.
The phone began ringing, today as always, before their feet hit the floor. Kathy and Zeitoun - most people called him by his last name because they couldn't pronounce his first - ran a company, Zeitoun A. Painting Contractor LLC, and every day their crews, their clients, everyone with a phone and their number, seemed to think that once the clock struck six-thirty, it was appropriate to call. And they called. Usually there were so many calls at the stroke of six-thirty that the overlap would send half of them straight to voicemail.
Kathy took the first one, from a client across town, while Zeitoun shuffled into the shower. Fridays were always busy, but this one promised madness, given the rough weather on the way. There had been rumblings all week about a tropical storm crossing the Florida Keys, a chance it might head north. Though this kind of possibility presented itself every August and didn't raise eyebrows for most, Kathy and Zeitoun's more cautious clients and friends often made preparations. Throughout the morning the callers would want to know if Zeitoun could board up their windows and doors, if he would be clearing his equipment off their property before the winds came. Workers would want to know if they'd be expected to come in that day or the next.
"Zeitoun Painting Contractors," Kathy said, trying to sound alert. It was an elderly client, a woman living alone in a Garden District mansion, asking if Zeitoun's crew could come over and board up her windows.
"Sure, of course," Kathy said, letting her feet drop heavily to the floor. She was up. Kathy was the business's secretary, bookkeeper, credit department, public-relations manager - she did everything in the office, while her husband handled the building and painting. The two of them balanced each other well: Zeitoun's English had its limits, so when bills had to be negotiated, hearing Kathy's Louisiana drawl put clients at ease.
This was part of the job, helping clients prepare their homes for coming winds. Kathy hadn't given much thought to the storm this client was talking about. It took a lot more than a few downed trees in south Florida to get her attention.
"We'll have a crew over this afternoon," Kathy told the woman.
Kathy and Zeitoun had been married for eleven years. Zeitoun had come to New Orleans in 1994, by way of Houston and Baton Rouge and a half- dozen other American cities he'd explored as a young man. Kathy had grown up in Baton Rouge and was used to the hurricane routine: the litany of preparations, the waiting and watching, the power outages, the candles and flashlights and buckets catching rain. There seemed to be a half-dozen named storms every August, and they were rarely worth the trouble. This one, named Katrina, would be no different.
Downstairs, Nademah, at ten their second-oldest, was helping get breakfast together for the two younger girls, Aisha and Safiya, five and seven. Zachary, Kathy's fifteen-year-old son from her first marriage, was already gone, off to meet friends before school. Kathy made lunches while the three girls sat at the kitchen table, eating and reciting, in English accents, scenes from Pride and Prejudice. They had gotten lost in, were hopelessly in love with, that movie. Dark-eyed Nademah had heard about it from friends, convinced Kathy to buy the DVD, and since then the three girls had seen it a dozen times - every night for two weeks. They knew every character and every line and had learned how to swoon like aristocratic maidens. It was the worst they'd had it since Phantom of the Opera, when they'd been stricken with the need to sing every song, at home or at school or on the escalator at the mall, at full volume.
Zeitoun wasn't sure which was worse. As he entered the kitchen, seeing his daughters bow and curtsy and wave imaginary fans, he thought, At least they're not singing. Pouring himself a glass of orange juice, he watched these girls of his, perplexed. Growing up in Syria, he'd had seven sisters, but none had been this prone to drama. His girls were playful, wistful, always dancing across the house, jumping from bed to bed, singing with feigned vibrato, swooning. It was Kathy's influence, no doubt. She was one of them, really, blithe and girlish in her manner and her tastes - video games, Harry Potter, the baffling pop music they listened to. He knew she was determined to give them the kind of carefree childhood she hadn't had.
"That's all you're eating?" Kathy said, looking over at her husband, who was putting on his shoes, ready to leave. He was of average height, a sturdily built man of forty-seven, but how he maintained his weight was a puzzle. He could go without breakfast, graze at lunch, and barely touch dinner, all while working twelve-hour days of constant activity, and still his weight never fluctuated. Kathy had known for a decade that her husband was one of those inexplicably solid, self-sufficient, and never-needy men who got by on air and water, impervious to injury or disease - but still she wondered how he sustained himself. He was passing through the kitchen now, kissing the girls' heads.
"Don't forget your phone," Kathy said, eyeing it on the microwave.
"Why would I?" he asked, pocketing it.
"So you don't forget things?"
"You're really saying you don't forget things."
"Yes. This is what I'm saying."
But as soon as he'd said the words he recognized his error.
"You forgot our firstborn child!" Kathy said. He'd walked right into it. The kids smiled at their father. They knew the story well.
It was unfair, Zeitoun thought, how one lapse in eleven years could give his wife enough ammunition to needle him for the rest of his life. Zeitoun was not a forgetful man, but whenever he did forget something, or when Kathy was trying to prove he had forgotten something, all she had to do was remind him of the time he'd forgotten Nademah. Because he had. Not for such a long time, but he had.
She was born on August 4, on the one-year anniversary of their wedding. It had been a trying labor. The next day, at home, Zeitoun helped Kathy from the car, closed the passenger door, and then retrieved Nademah, still in her carseat. He carried the baby in one hand, holding Kathy's arm with the other. The stairs to their second- floor apartment were just inside the building, and Kathy needed help getting up. So Zeitoun helped her up the steep steps, Kathy groaning and sighing as they went. They reached the bedroom, where Kathy collapsed on the bed and got under the covers. She was relieved beyond words or reason to be home where she could relax with her infant.
"Give her to me," Kathy said, raising her arms.
Zeitoun looked down to his wife, astonished at how ethereally beautiful she looked, her skin radiant, her eyes so tired. Then he heard what she'd said. The baby. Of course she wanted the baby. He turned to give her the baby, but there was no baby. The baby was not at his feet. The baby was not in the room.
"Where is she?" Kathy asked.
Zeitoun took in a quick breath. "I don't know."
"Abdul, where's the baby?" Kathy said, now louder.
Zeitoun made a sound, something between a gasp and a squeak, and flew out of the room. He ran down the steps and out the front door. He saw the carseat sitting on the lawn. He'd left the baby in the yard. He'd left the baby in the yard. The carseat was turned toward the street. He couldn't see Nademah's face. He grabbed the handle, fearing the worst, that someone had taken her and left the seat, but when he turned it toward him, there was the tiny pink face of Nademah, scrunched and sleeping. He put his fingers to her, to feel her heat, to know she was okay. She was.
He brought the carseat upstairs, handed Nademah to Kathy, and before she could scold him, kid him, or divorce him, he ran down the stairs and went for a walk. He needed a walk that day, and needed walks for many days following, to work out what he'd done and why, how he had forgotten his child while aiding his wife. How hard it was to do both, to be partner to one and protector to the other. What was the balance? He would spend years pondering this conundrum.
This day, in the kitchen, Zeitoun wasn't about to give Kathy the opportunity to tell the whole story, again, to their children. He waved goodbye.
Aisha hung on his leg. "Don't leave, Baba," she said. She was given to theatrics - Kathy called her Dramarama - and all that Austen had made the tendency worse.
He was already thinking about the day's work ahead, and even at seven- thirty he felt behind.
Zeitoun looked down at Aisha, held her face in his hands, smiled at the tiny perfection of her dark wet eyes, and then extracted her from his shin as if he were stepping out of soggy pants. Seconds later he was in the driveway, loading the van.
Aisha went out to help him, and Kathy watched the two of them, thinking about his way with the girls. It was difficult to describe. He was not an overly doting father, and yet he never objected to them jumping on him, grabbing him. He was firm, sure, but also just distracted enough to give them the room they needed, and just pliant enough to let himself be taken advantage of when the need arose. And even when he was upset about something, it was disguised behind those eyes, grey-green and long-lashed. When they met, he was thirteen years older than Kathy, so she wasn't immediately sold on the prospect of marriage, but those eyes, holding the light the way they did, had seized her. They were dream-filled, but discerning, too, assessing - the eyes of an entrepreneur. He could see a run-down building and have not only the vision to see what it might become, but also the practical knowledge of what it would cost and how long it would take.
Kathy adjusted her hijab in the front window, tucking in stray hairs - it was a nervous habit - while watching Zeitoun leave the driveway in a swirling grey cloud. It was time for a new van. The one they had was a crumbling white beast, long-suffering but dependable, filled with ladders and wood and rattling with loose screws and brushes. On the side was their ubiquitous logo, the words Zeitoun A. Painting Contractor next to a paint roller resting at the end of a rainbow. The logo was corny, Kathy admitted, but it wasn't easy to forget. Everyone in the city knew it, from bus stops and benches and lawn signs; it was as common in New Orleans as live oak or royal fern. But at first it was not so benign to all.
When Zeitoun first designed it, he'd had no idea that a sign with a rainbow on it would signify anything to anyone — anything oher than the array of colors and tints from which clients might choose. But soon enough he and Kathy were made aware of the signals they were sending.
Immediately they began getting calls from gay couples, and this was good news, good business. But at the same time, some potential clients, once they saw the van arrive, were no longer interested in Zeitoun A. Painting Contractor LLC. Some workers left, thinking that by working under the Zeitoun Painting rainbow they would be presumed to be gay, that somehow the company managed to employ only gay painters.
When Zeitoun and Kathy caught on to the rainbow's signifying power, they had a serious talk about it. Kathy wondered if her husband, who did not at that point have any gay friends or family members, might want to change the logo, to keep their message from being misconstrued.
But Zeitoun barely gave it a thought. It would costa lot of money he said — about twenty signs had been made, not to mention all the business cards and stationary — and besides, all the new clients were paying their bills. It wasn't much more complicated than that.
"Think about it," Zeitoun laughed. "We're a Muslim couple running a painting company in Louisiana. Not such a good idea to turn away clients." Anyone who had a problem with rainbows, he said, would surely have trouble with Islam.
So the rainbow remained.
Zeitoun pulled onto Earhart Boulevard, though a part of him was still in Jableh. Whenever he had these morning thoughts of his childhood, he wondered how they all were, his family in Syria, all his brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews scattered up and down the coast, and those who had long ago left this world. His mother died a few years after his father passed on, and he'd lost a treasured brother, Mohammed, when he was very young. But the rest of his siblings, those still in Syria and Spain and Saudi Arabia, were all doing well, extraordinarily so. The Zeitouns were a high-achieving clan, full of doctors and school principals and generals and business owners, all of them with a passion for the sea. They had grown up in a big stone house on the Mediterranean, and none had strayed far from the shore. Zeitoun made a note to call Jableh sometime that day. There were always new babies, always news. He only had to reach one of his brothers or sisters — there were seven still in Syria — and he could get the full report.
Zeitoun turned on the radio. The storm that people were talking about was still far down in Florida, moving slowly west. It wasn't expected to make it up the Gulf for another few days, if at all. As he drove to his first job of the day, the restoration of a wonderful old mansion in the Garden District, he turned the dial on the radio, looking for something, anything else.
Standing in her kitchen, Kathy looked at the clock and gasped. It was all too rare that she got the kids to school on time. But she was working on it. Or planned to work on it as soon as the season calmed down. Summer was the busiest time for the business, with so many people leaving, fleeing the swamp heat, wanting these rooms or that porch painted while they were away.
With a flurry of warnings and arm movements, Kathy herded the girls and their gear into the minivan and headed across the Mississippi to the West Bank.
There were advantages to Zeitoun and Kathy running a business together — so many blessings, too many to name — but then again, the drawbacks were distinct and growing. They greatly valued being able to set their own hours, choose their clients and jobs, and be at home whenever they needed to be — their ability to be there, always and for anything relating to their children, was a profound comfort. But when friends would ask Kathy whether they, too, should start their own business, she talked them out of it. You don't run the business, she would say. The business runs you.
Kathy and Zeitoun worked harder than anyone they knew, and the work and worry never ended. Nights, weekends, holidays — respite never came. They usually had eight to ten jobs going at any one time, which they oversaw out of a home office and a warehouse space on Dublin Street, off Carrollton. And that was to say nothing of the property-management aspect of the business. Somewhere along the line they started buying buildings, apartments, and house, and now they had six properties with eighteen tenants. Each renter was, in some ways, another dependent, another soul to worry about, to provide with shelter, a solid roof, air-conditioning, clean water. There was a dizzying array of people to pay and collect from, houses to improve and maintain, bills to deal with, invoices to issue, supplies to buy and store.
But she cherished what her life had become, and the family she and Zeitoun had created. She was driving her three girls to school now, and the fact that they could go to private school, that their college would be taken care of, that they had all they needed and more — she was thankful every hour of every day.
Kathy was one of nine children, and had grown up with very little, and Zeitoun, the eighth of thirteen children, had been raised with almost nothing. To see the two of them now, to stand back and assess what they'd built — a sprawling family, a business of distinct success, and to be woven so thoroughly into the fabric of their adopted city that they had friends in every neighborhood, clients on almost every block they passed — these were all blessings from God.
How could she take Nademah, for instance, for granted? How had they produced such a child — so smart and self-possessed, so dutiful, helpful, and precocious? She was practically an adult now, it seemed — she certainly spoke like one, often more measured and circumspect than her parents. Kathy glanced at her now, sitting in the passenger seat playing with the radio. She'd always been quick. When she was five, no more than five, Zeitoun came home from work for lunch one day and found Nademah playing on the floor. She looked up at him and declared, "Daddy, I want to be a dancer." Zeitoun took off his shoes and sat on the couch. "We have too many dancers in the city," he said, rubbing his feet. "We need doctors, we need lawyers, we need teachers. I want you to be a doctor so you can take care of me." Nademah thought about this for a moment and said, "Okay, then I'll be a doctor." She went back to her coloring. A minute later, Kathy came downstairs, having just seen the wreck of Nademah's bedroom. "Clean up your room, Demah," she said. Nademah didn't miss a beat, nor did she look up from her coloring book. "Not me, Mama. I'm going to be a doctor, and doctors don't clean."
In the car, approaching the school, Nademah turned up the volume on the radio. She'd caught something on the news about the coming storm. Kathy wasn't paying close attention, because three or four times a season, it seemed, there was some alarmist talk about hurricanes heading straight for the city, and always their direction changed, or the winds fizzled in Florida or over the Gulf. If a storm hit New Orleans at all, it would be greatly diminished, no more than a day of grey gusts and rain.
This reporter was talking about the storm heading into the Gulf of Mexico as a Category 1. It was about 45 miles north-northwest of Key West and heading west. Kathy turned the radio of; she didn't want the kids to worry.
"You think it'll hit us?" Nademah asked.
Kathy didn't think much of it. Who ever worried about a Category 1 or 2? She told Nademah it was nothing, nothing at all, and she kissed the girls goodbye.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Reading Group Guide
This guide is intended to enhance your group’s reading and discussion of Dave Eggers’s Zeitoun, a harrowing nonfiction account of what happened to one man, and his family, in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
1. “Notes About This Book” (xv) gives a sense of how the book was written, whose point of view it reflects, and Eggers’s efforts at accuracy and truth in his depiction of events. By choosing to portray the response to the hurricane through its effects on one family, what kind of story (or history) does he achieve?
2. The book opens with “Friday, August 26,” an expository chapter that introduces us to Zeitoun’s family life and his business life, the two very interconnected. What are some of the ways in which the descriptions here draw you in as a reader, and make these people and their situation real? Why is the timeline a good structural choice for this story?
3. Kathy has grown up as a Southern Baptist. Drawn to Islam through her childhood friend Yuko, she decides to convert. Why, when she comes to visit wearing her hijab, does her mother tell her, “Now you can take that thing off” (57)? Why does the prayer from the Qur’an quoted on page 51 have a strong effect on her? What does her reaction to the evangelical preacher who mocks Islam and says that Kathy’s temptation to convert was the work of the devil (65–66), say about Kathy’s character and intelligence?
4. Do Abdulrahman, Kathy and their children make up an unusual American family, or not? How would you describe the relationship between Zeitoun and Kathy, in marriage and in business? What effect does their religion have on the way others in the community see them?
5. Why has Eggers woven into the story accounts of Zeitoun’s past in Syria, his upbringing, his brother Mohammed, the champion swimmer, his brother Ahmad, and their close bond? What effect does this framework of family have on your perception of Zeitoun’s character, his ethics, his behavior?
6. The plight of the neighborhood’s abandoned dogs comes to Zeitoun’s attention as “a bewilderment, an anger in their cries that cut the night into shards” (93). The next day, he sets out in the canoe and tries to do what he can for animals and people trapped by the flood. How does Zeitoun feel about what he is doing? How does he think about these days after he has been imprisoned (262–64)?
7. Discuss what happens when Zeitoun and the others are forced to get into the boat and are taken into custody. Is it clear why they are being arrested? What assumptions are made about Zeitoun and the other three men (275–87)?
8. Part IV (203–90) tells the story of Zeitoun’s imprisonment. Here we learn in great detail how Zeitoun is denied the right to call Kathy, how his injured foot is not attended to, how the other men are beaten, stripped, and starved, how he prays constantly, yet loses hope. What is the impact, as you read, of this narrative?
9. “Zeitoun is a more powerful indictment of America’s dystopia in the Bush era than any number of well-written polemics” (Timothy Egan, New York Times, August 13, 2009). Would you agree with this statement? Can Zeitoun be read as a contribution to the history of hurricane Katrina and the failure of government to handle the disaster effectively?
10. Discuss Kathy’s situation, and her actions once she learns where Zeitoun is. The aftermath is more difficult, and she still suffers from physical and psychological problems that seem to be the result of post-traumatic stress. What was the most traumatic part of her experience, and why (319)?
11. Given that the other men who were imprisoned with Zeitoun were held much longer than he was, and that Nasser lost his life savings, is it surprising that these men were not compensated in any way for their time in prison (320–21)?
12. What is Zeitoun’s feeling now about what happened? How does he move forward into the future, as expressed in the book’s closing pages (322-25)?
13. If you have read What is the What, Eggers’ novel about Sudanese refugee Valentino Achak Deng, how does Zeitoun compare? Discuss Eggers’ approach to writing about traumatic regional and political events through the lives of individuals impacted by them.
(For a complete list of available reading group guides, and to sign up for the Reading Group Center enewsletter, visit www.readinggroupcenter.com)
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
David Eggers records the horrific events that occur to Mr. Zeitoun and his family during and following Hurricane Katrina. Mr. Zeitoun, a highly trusted and successful building contractor and manager in New Orleans, attempts to keep his properties safe during the catastrophic deluge that hits the Gulf Coast. Sadly, Mr. Zeitoun is arrested and suffers grave mistreatment and endless indignities because he is a devout Muslim. That he is a peaceful man, an honest businessman, a loving family man, means little to his jailers who stereotype him as a Middle Eastern threat. David Eggers describes in riveting detail the atrocities suffered by Mr. Zeitoun while in the hands of American soldiers. That our country could resort to such lawless inhumanity is shocking, but that we have not heard the full story before is even more shocking. It is every citizen's duty to read this book and to know what happened.
While Zeitoun was an interesting story about a man who stayed behind during and through the aftermath of hurricane Katrina that it was lacking in components that make up a good story. Since the book was nonfiction I thought it was easy to find that the author was trying not to reveal too much in the beginning of the story so that readers would still be interested. While this is a god idea most of the time, it causes the story to slowly progress and puts off the reader from reading this book. He also dwelled a little too much in Zeitoun's past for my liking. He was constantly backtracking throughout the story and took to much time on his past. I also found it strange that he did not mention a lot about his son and in pictures of their family they do not include him. I believe he only mentions Zachary about 10 times in the story. And when he needs to get to school instead of taking him to school he is left to make breakfast and find a way to school on his own. Instead of taking Zachary to school they find it more important to take the daughters to school. Is he not important enough? I feel that he doesn't get enough attention because he isn't Zeitoun's real son. For the sake of Zachary I truly hope that this is not an actuality. Overall I thought this book had a good story but was not laid out very well at all.
When a man-made catastrophe met a natural disaster, the American Dream became an American nightmare. For the Zeitoun a low pressure center named Katrina exaggerated the bigotry and biases stirred by the events of 9-11. For anyone who is Muslim and of Middle Eastern descent, the misguided hatred of the last ten years has brought untold suffering to Americans. Dave Eggers successfully weaves the stories of a pending storm and a country in moral crisis. This is a book that feels fiction in its telling, and the sobering truth is it is really true. I am left saddened that this story is but one of many that could be told, if we wanted to hear about the America we currently are protecting with laws that take away freedom and rights that our forefathers and mothers died for us to enjoy.
Although the book started out a little slow, it was so much more than I ever expected. The entire time I was reading I was recalling my own memories of news reports during that horrible time in New Orleans and the surrounding areas. There were so many other topics to consider during this one family's ordeal (flood, famine, finances, religion, profiling, etc.). Who knew one book could have it all?! Enjoy!!
The low key writing style of this author is the strength of this book. It's a true story about a real family and the actual events they experience as a result of hurricane Katrina. As most residents of New Orleans struggle to exit the city, Zeitoun chooses to stay to protect his properties and investments. The first thing that resonates with this book is the character of Zeitoun. He's a hardworking family man who immigrated to the United States from Syria. The events that unfold in the aftermath of Katrina are told from his perspective in a straight forward no nonsense style. He experiences the devastation of the storm followed by another nightmare, more potent and with longer lasting scars. He recounts the devastating effect of a society regressing to substandard mores and the result of being a Syrian immigrant during a national disaster. While reading I had to constantly remind myself this was not fiction and found it hard to believe such events could happen in America. It's an amazing story that is equal parts haunting and inspiring and leaves you wondering what else happened that was not reported. Some of the sections that deal with Zeitoun's background information are a little to long, but don't let that deter you from reading this piece of work
Any review I can write can not do this wonderful book justice. The saga of the Zeitoun family before, during and after Hurricane Katrina told without sensationalizing details (as if that were possible!) gives a probing insight into human beings stripped down of all pretenses of 'civilized' behavior, dealing with a natural disaster of immense and unprecedented proportions. Circumstances can turn some men into heroes (helping to rescue trapped neighbors and feeding trapped animals left behind to fend for themselves). It can also turn others into something not quite so noble (depriving others of their basic human rights, taking advantage of the situation for their own benefit and simple prejudice). This is truly an eye opening look at the Katrina disaster from a unique perspective. We are truly on the inside riding out the storm in our own homes. What type of person would you become? I hope this is as close as I ever come to finding out!
The story is no doubt interesting and the author attempts to keep the interest to the reader. Being a true story I can attest to the author trying to keep a balance of not revealing too much in the beginning which would make the story not worth reading. Unfortunately this is what I find the author doing. Right from the beginning in what I assume to be bait to the reader, the pace is far too slow with more than necessary detours. At some point you want to skip the pages so as to get to what the author wants to really say. Although I commend the author on his consistency, as I re-read the book I thought it may have been better if he kept to a minimum the "to and fro" writing style and instead completed one scene.if you like. The hardest thing after reading this book is to accept that this could be happening in America. Knowing that Zeitouni is from Syria, I think the picture I got from what he did was more of an over glorified person. Almost diminishing what the rescue teams did. In fact the book lacked a clear balance of the good the government did, and rather focused more on Zeitouni and his mini mission. I believe the author had done very good research but his delivery was rather 'selfish' and he leaves the reader not asking for more but with a bitter taste in the mouth. Something like ."really?" All in all, it's a good book to read, tells you how mean and tough the world can be at times. Sadly this can happened anywhere anytime.
I found Dave Eggers’ Zeitoun to be a thrilling and informative read. We all know about the great devastation that occurred to the city of New Orleans after the hurricane, but I myself and probably many others may not of known about the great devastation to New Orleans’ citizens. Every American has to read this book to ensure injustices and flaws in the system that were brought to my attention during this book do not reoccur. After the hurricane, New Orleans did become a third world country. People’s rights were forgotten and thrown aside. People were arrested against their will. Terrible events occurred that I never knew the extent of until reading this book. I heard all about the damage to the land but not the damage to the families and people that stuck around. Not the suffering and injustice they experienced. I knew about the people trapped and being rescued, but not about the arrests made without any reason for arrest at all. People like Zeitoun were taken against their will and locked up in a prison because they looked suspicious. These men were only trying to protect their belongings, but the police arrested them at gunpoint as if they were uncontrollable murderers. It is amazing to me that such a well-respected man as Zeitoun could experience such severe discrimination. When he was brought to the prison he was treated differently because of his ethnic background. Also, the fact that none of these men could even contact their families when arrested shocked me. Every prisoner has the right to their one phone call and I never knew that these suffering people were denied that. Overall the events that occurred and were explained in this book shocked me. I saw an ugly side of the situation down in New Orleans that I never knew about prior. This is why it is so important for people to read this book or books similar to this one. Then, next time a horrific disaster occurs such as Hurricane Katrina we can provide the help necessary. We can make sure the prisoners are well cared for and rescued properly, to spare as many lives as possible. I enjoyed reading this book; it opened my eyes to the world around me.
Zeitoun is the kind of book that, while reading, the events seem so unreal that you have to constantly remind yourself that it is a true story. The gripping tale of a man in the midst of disaster will have you on your toes the whole time, wondering what is going to happen next. As a biography of a different sort, the events that occur in Zeitoun will make you question both the government and even society itself. The book gives the reader an entirely different perspective of hurricane Katrina--it takes you through the unbelievable series of events that occur to an honest man, who is simply trying to help people and calm the storm.
This book was interesting and well written from the start. My first Eggers book, I plan to read more. Without giving away the story, I was shocked someone in the US could be treated like this. I had a hard time knowing it was a true story. Recently I took a trip to NYC and there were several middle eastern men on the flight, I am a nervous flier anyway but I kept telling myself I was being prejudice just like the people in this book and I had to stop! I Think this book will make me more aware how I react to people that dress or look different than myself, not a bad thing for anyone. I not only learned from the book, I enjoyed reading it from the start.
For most people, Katrina was nothing more than a far away catastrophe that was horrific, or even embarrassing, to watch on television. For weeks, the media portrayed New Orleanians as savage criminals, preying not only on one another but on the city that they supposedly loved so much. Then the media coverage stopped. Sure, Brad Pitt got a few minutes on MTV News every now and then. Former Presidents are known to swing on through to say a few words, eat a beignet, then be on their way. But what really happened during the storm!? For any non-New Orleanian, it would be nearly impossible to not conjure up imagines of the war-like conditions experiences in the Superdome and in front of the Convention Center. This won't be held against you. You didn't chose the images you received. Big media conglomerates did. What you didn't see for the mast part were the hundreds of people who stayed behind in the city to help their fellow citizens and protect the city itself in what has since been billed as the Battle of New Orleans. Coupling a compassionate appreciation for true heroics with an outstanding journalistic professionalism, Dave Eggers presents us with just such a story, that of Abdulrahman Zeitoun. Zeitoun, as he is known, is a Syrian-American-New-Orleanian who has lived in New Orleans for years, cultivating a small painting business that has helped to maintain some of the grandest properties in this historic city. With Katrina approaching, Zeitoun opts not to evacuate the city with his family, but rather stay behind to protect not only their own property but those of his clients who but so much weight on Zeitouns unwavering professionalism. The story that ensues is one of horrific tragedy, embarrassing folly, and unbelievable courage. Though Eggers, Zeitoun's mini-odyssey through hell and back sheds light on the tenacity, goodwill and outright absurdity that are such common features of true, die-hard New Orleanians. This is a story of Katrina. This is a story of America. Please enjoy and share. See you in New Orleans!
Abdulrahman Zeitoun is a Syrian American living in New Orleans with his wife, Kathy, and his four children. With hard work and determination, he built a successful and well-known business as a painter and a contractor. Always trying to do what is best, he stays behind to protect his home, business, and rental properties while his wife and children flee New Orleans due to Hurricane Katrina. As the city empties of people and fills up with water, Zeitoun uses an old canoe to explore his deserted neighborhood and help anyone in need. Soon, he is arrested for "looting," and imprisoned first in a Guantanamo Bay-like structure behind a bus and train station (nicknamed Camp Greyhound) and then a maximum security prison outside Baton Rouge for weeks without a phone call or trial. Eggers presents this incredibly powerful and harrowing story in the context of Zeitoun and Kathy's lives. Highly recommended.
[Zeitoun] tells the story of a Muslim-American family in New Orleans. The mother and children leave for the store, while the husband stays behind. He and several other men are arrested and spend several months in various impromptu jail situations before being released. First, the story is very fast moving. The writing is crisp and informative without being dry. This was my first Eggers and I will definitely read more of his work. What [Zeitoun] manages to avoid is the pitfall of most post-Katrina books about New Orleans which is the forced insertion of every New Orleans personality, location, author¿s favorite bar, food, and stereotype. Some of the characters and situations are recognizable to me because they read as real. This seems to be the case with the religious aspects as well, from my limited experience with Muslim-Americans.The story is hard and tragic and not entirely hopeful. It is the way life is ¿ sometimes good, sometimes bad ¿ and you do what you have to do to get by. Life in south Louisiana has been this way for a long time. Most people can tell you stories of their parents, grandparents, great-grandparents struggles. The stories are never disheartening and never heart-warming, but they are solid in a way that everyday life is. Perhaps there is a kind of hope in that.
Descriptive words prompted by this book: unsettling, despair, terrifying, discouraging, frightening.Time to read this book: measured in hours rather than daysFinal opinion: pricelessHang onto your hats if you choose to read Zeitoun by Dave Eggers because you are in for quite a ride. I thought I knew pretty much all I could about Katrina: the failure of FEMA to provide timely help for the victims, and the failure of the city of New Oeleans and the state of Louisiana to provide even basic necessities for those affected, but that which is exposed by Eggers in this book, which is a biography that details actual events that happened, stunned me. Maybe I'm among the naive few, I'm not sure.Kathy and Abdulrahman Zeitoun own a highly successful painting and contracting business in New Orleans. They also own several rental properties in the city and have lived through more than one hurricane. The book tells their story and it's only one story out of thousands which is what makes it so frightening. I don't want to give away too much of the story, but I'll say that Kathy and her four children leave New Orleans at the start of the hurricane and her husband stays behind to protect all of his business interests and their home, just as he has done in the past when hurricanes were predicted. When the storm turns out to be the hundred year storm that no one really expected, Zeitoun uses his canoe to help in the rescue of stranded citizens and to check on his various properties. As the story unfolds, he discovers that the country he loves can not be counted on to provide even basic human rights.Eggers intersperses the story of before and after Katrina with the story of Kathy and Zeitoun's past lives. The effect is that you know these two so well that you can't understand how they could be treated in the way they are. This is non-fiction that reads like fiction and, because of what transpires, I kept reminding myself that this was a true story. Fast, fast read because you truly cannot put it down. Very highly recommended.
A powerful new book by Dave Eggers, one of today's finest young writers, chronicling the accounts of one family's, and in particular, one individual's, ordeal during and after Hurricane Katrina. Imagine staying behind to be of help after the hurricane. Imagine being Muslim. Imagine having a Syrian last name. Imagine being arrested in a house you own for "suspicion". Imagine a country where civil liberties cease to exist. Abdulrahman Zeitoun doesn't have to imagine because it happened to him. Remember, this is not a work of fiction. I had a nightmare after reading this book and I suspect you will too.
We had a hurricane roll into our world a year ago. Though it was no Katrina, it spun off tornadoes that destroyed Sonic and ripped out an apartment complex wall. Power was out in some spots for a month and tree limbs and smashed road signs and broken fences became part of our everyday life.So I was eager to read Zeitoun. In the past, I¿ve been disappointed with narratives about hurricanes; with the exception of Isaac¿s Storm and Sudden Sea, hurricane storms often turn into a boring chronology of the events of the hours as the storm passes through. Zeitoun was as well told as a novel. The characters the author chose to use in the book were a heady mix of do-gooder and flawed human being. Eggers takes us right into the storm with the characters. It will be on my list of best reads of the year.
A Man Made TragedyIn my opinion, "Zeitoun" is possibly the best non-fiction book I've read this year. Dave Eggers, a modern day Dickens according to the New York Times' Timothy Egan, is a journalistic wizard weaving through the background of Abdulrahman Zeitoun -- a Syrian immigrant -- his family and life in New Orleans, and his adventures during the unfortunate events of Hurricane Katrina.The first half of the book admittedly is slightly dull, but the second half is both thrilling but profoundly tragic at the same time. I don't want to give up the plot but it will have you questioning the fragility of the constitutional rights (as Americans that is) and what it means to be an American.Unfortunately, there are probably many more Zeitoun stories yet to be told, each one as sad as the one before. As a cathartic process, I believe these stories all need to be told, if only so that somehow in the future, we can avoid repeating such terrible mistakes. When will we ever learn??
Well, I'll buy any biography Eggers writes now. I read "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" and found the first two-thirds engrossing. I read "What is the What" and was stunned at Eggers' ability to be the voice of a man from another contintent, culture, and history. Now comes Zeitoun. This reads like a combination memoir and investigative journalism, and both aspects work beautifully. Eggers relays a fascinating story about a period of time in New Orleans that left the whole country stunned. If you want some idea of what was going on down there when the press had no clue, this book will fill you in, and does so in an uncompromizing, unblinking style. You just have to read this. Os.
Some thoughts on Zeitoun.Eggers tells the tale of Abdulrahman Zeitoun and his experiences before and after Katrina. He mainly keeps himself out of the story but the brushstrokes of where he wants the reader to end up are visible at times. Deftly done, and it doesn't expand into propaganda. The impact of the story is focused on the martial law period following Katrina. Thousands of people ended up with heavy footed, jack-booted clad feet on their throats. A 73 year-old woman ends up being held for more than a week for retrieving sausages from the trunk of her own car. Homeland Security and the rules it operates under practically guarantee civil rights abuse. Claims of national security interests trump civil rights issues in that department's eyes. The New Orleans police department didn't exactly have an outstanding reputation before Katrina and the mixture of that weak department, the military, and Homeland Security trying to restore order ended up being a messy affair. Parts of the aftermath are still playing out in political circles and the court system. Eggers illuminates some of these issues.Zeituon is a hardworking Syrian-American who settled in New Orleans, married a Louisiana native and they are raising a family together. Like most couples, they have their problems but they were making it work. Abdulrahman has his own construction contracting company and is something of a workaholic. They also own several rentals. Getting him to take family vacations was a battle every time.This obsessiveness, while understandable, led to his experiences during and after Katrina. He passed through the storm and the levee breaches unscathed. During this time his wife and his brother pleaded with him several times to leave. Keep the family together and work through the hardships as a unit rather than be split up during this period. Zeitoun was adamant in his refusal to evacuate even though there were several opportunities to get out. He had a old used canoe that he used to rescue some stranded neighbors and fed some trapped dogs. It was God's will that he was where he was he would say. Then he was arrested. All of a sudden the God's will reasoning went away and the thoughts of being reunited with family came to the fore. If one believes in a deity that is in control of every part of one's life then it seems the bad should be a part of that belief along with the good. The loss of freedom turned his thoughts to family that probably should have been there before the loss of freedom.Zeitoun is not a uncaring or cruel man. He has his flaws like anyone else does. After he was released he restarted his business and bought some more rentals. He is changed but his wife is changed even more and not for the better. I found myself wondering if and when the next evacuation order comes, will Abdulrahman leave or stay?
Probably a 3.5 star book.It's a story that deserved to be told. It was an interesting tale. I enjoyed it, and was glad I read it.However, the delivery of the story seemed flat. I'm not sure if the blame is more with the audiobook narrator or the word choice of the author. I'm guessing it is a little of both, with the author having more of an issue. I'd have liked it more if the story had been a little wider, and if Zeitoun and family didn't seem quite so perfect.
A unique story and a very good insight into many facets of Hurricane Katrina. Unfortunately, the writing is flat and often plodding. I felt that the book could have been cut by 80 or so pages and that would have done a much better job telling the story. Instead we are left with long passages that seem to say very little yet stretch on interminably. Eggers is a good author and the story of Zeitoun is one that needs to be heard but unfortunately Eggers does not do the story proper justice in this book.
This is Egger's first completely nonfiction book since his breakout "Heartbreaking." (What is the What is technically fiction, even though it's a true story). Zeitoun tells the story of a Syrian-American family that lives in New Orleans and their experience in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Their story is a disturbing, but fascinating one. Egger's poetic way with words make the simplest story beautiful and this one is no exception. The details he includes as he introduces you to the Zeitoun family make you quickly connect with them. My only fault with the book is that it became a bit repetitive in the second half, but that's more the fault of the frustrating situation the Zeitouns faced than the writing. I would highly recommend this (along with most of Egger's work). It was an intimate look at both Katrina and the experience of an immigrant in America.
A good read. Simply told but still interesting and thought provoking. It is heartbreaking to know that so much of Katrina's damage came after the hurricane and that so many were decimated by it.
Wow this was an eye opener. This is a story about Abdulrahmam Zeitoun and his family during and after Hurricane Katrina. It's a tale of an American family and an illustration of the shocking, efficient and cold power our government can muster. I had no idea what I was in for and I highly recommend reading this book. Eggers also wrote What is the What, another powerful and eye opening book about Sudan. Both have great hardcover editions that are prominently displayed in my beloved book shelf.
The first half of this book tells the story of a fairly typical family facing the decisions citizens of New Orleans had to face before and during Hurricane Katrina. The mother and children flee the city while the husband stays behind to look after their business and properties. He ends up saving numbers of people and abandoned pets. The second part of the story is a sudden turn from the stories of other Katrina survivors when he is arrested and detained by Homeland Security. Not only is he held without rights but his mistreatment by the justice system continues afterward. It is very disturbing to think this can occur in our country under our Constitution. It is very interesting story but with a little too much extraneous information about the couple's extended family. That part might make another good story but I found it distracting from the major plots of the book.