Saturday, February 6, 2010

Book Review: "Zeitoun," by Dave Eggers

Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers
McSweeney's Books, 2009

The story of Abdulrahman Zeitoun is quite a story. Zeitoun was born in Syria and spent his twenties traveling the world working aboard ships. In his thirties he chose to give up this life, and he chose to settle in New Orleans, Louisiana. He would eventually marry a Louisiana native who had converted to Islam in her twenties. Zeitoun started up a painting company in New Orleans and became a successful small business owner.

When Katrina struck, Zeitoun decided to ride out the storm. After the levees failed and New Orleans flooded, Zeitoun paddled around the city helping neighbors and animals. There are some beutiful passages in the book describing Zeitoun exploring this surreal and at times serene environment.

The reverie is broken, however. Zeitoun and three other men are arrested. They are not ever actually accused of a crime, but they are suspected of suspicious behavior. The experience of their incarceration is beyond horrible. Though there is no evidence linking Zeitoun or any of the other three men to terrorism, it is clear that the government agencies responsible for their detainment considered them possible terrorists.

The story of Abdulrahman Zeitoun is a great story because it is an inspiring story. Zeitoun built his painting and contracting business through good, honest hard work. He loves the architecture of the city of New Orleans and has worked tirelessly to restore it, both before and after the storm. Immediately after the storm, he selflessly gave aid to many in need. He suffered great indignities due to the incompetence of government agencies. His wife and family suffered terrific mental anguish due to his incarceration. It was a terrible, terrible experience for the Zeitoun family. The story of Abdulrahman Zeitoun and his family underscores the failure of the governmental response to Hurricane Katrina.

Dave Eggers tells the story of Abdulrahman Zeitoun in a very straight-forward manner. It is a very accessible book. I would recommend it to adults and students about age 13 and up. The subject matter in the latter half of the book is a bit unsettling. It is quite a story. I recommend this book highly. It is unbelievable that the events in this book happened. But they did happen, and it is valuable to know of them. Read this book.

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