Published by Penguin on February 24th 2011
Dave Eggers's Zeitoun is the winner of the American Book Award and the LA Times Book Award
In August 2005, as Hurricane Katrina blew in, the city of New Orleans has been abandoned by most citizens. But resident Abdulrahman Zeitoun, though his wife and family had gone, refused to leave. For days he traversed an apocalyptic landscape of flooded streets by canoe. But eventually he came to the attention of those 'guarding' this drowned city. Only then did Zeitoun's nightmare really begin.
Zeitoun is the powerful, ultimately uplifting true story of one man's courage when confronted with an awesome force of nature followed by more troubling human oppression.
'Eggers uses Zeitoun's eyes to report on America's reasonless post-Katrina world, Reminiscent of Gabriel Garcia Márquez's documentaries, this is a true story told with the skills of a master of fiction. Immensely readable' Independent
'Masterly. Brilliantly crafted, powerfully written and deftly reported' Guardian
'The stuff of great narrative non-fiction. Fifty years from now, when people want to know what happened to this once-great city, they will be talking about a family named Zeitoun' The New York Times Book Review
Last week we went to Canberra and spent a few days there. There was no internet in the room and hotspotting off my phone was ever so slow, we could go to the common areas and use the internet there but this was something I didn’t want to do too much. In the end I didn’t even turn on my computer last Friday. I did a reccy of the books awaiting for me to scribble about them and discover I have about fifteen books or magazines. And bearing in mind there’s seventeen weeks between today and the end of trimester one I think I’m going to endeavour to write and schedule them all in the next week or two. This’ll be fun! But for today I’m writing about a book we studied over the summer.
Abdulrahman Zeitoun was born in Syria. After twenty years spent working on the boats and travelling the world he settled in America. Marrying Kathy, a native of Baton Rouge together they started a painting business. Not understanding the connotations they used a rainbow on their trucks. This was both good and bad, some people refused to use them while others thought they were wonderful.
Many of you will remember Hurricane Katrina. Reminding me of some of the problems we’ve seen here with Black Saturday, it was terrible. I heard second-hand accounts of the problems people encountered in getting out as they tried to drive to safety. Zeitoun shows us how hard it was to get out and some of the problems that were there for people who stayed. The protagonist in this biography sent his wife and children to safety but decided to stay and look after their house, their business and as many of their client’s houses as possible. Their house was flooded and he lived on the roof.
We see how Zeitoun looked after dogs he found in empty houses. Why were the dogs abandoned? I suspect people thought they’d only be gone for a day or two. Sometimes people don’t actually care for their dogs as much as they think they do and when something comes up they look after number one. The second-hand stories I have included the dogs being in the car as the driver went from petrol pump to petrol pump getting the last few drops, finally getting everyone to safety.
We also see how the government decided to send in people and create a jail just for people they arrest during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The jail was very basic and gave zero privacy, the guards appeared to have no compassion for Muslims.
This is an incredibly moving story. I found it very hard to put down. Some of the images haunt me today. The images of Zeitoun roaming the streets in a boat. Why? He had a boat and the many of the streets were deep enough in water to enable him to use it. He used the meat he had in his freezer to feed the dogs he found had been left behind in houses and also to feed himself and other people. He rescued other people. Essentially, he behaved like a really nice person. And then he was arrested. Arrested in a different house he owned, one that had virtually escaped the water. He was arrested as a looter and then received dreadful treatment as a Muslim. This was in 2005 after 9/11 and the government were paranoid. I’m going to make you think of Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp, but with even more basic facilities as it was built very quickly.
I know Zeitoun doesn’t have the best reputation since the events surrounding Hurricane Katrina are over but I’m suggesting you read this book without reference to any news articles about him. Make an assessment based on what you read in this book. If you want to then research him and make a different assessment that is entirely up to you. I just feel they are two different things and need to be treated as such. If you’re about to study this book then you might find your teacher referring to some of these news articles, but just for reading I do feel they should be treated separately. In case you want to buy through Booktopia using an affiliate link and give me a few cents then here’s the link.