Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Read Zeitoun

I just finished Dave Egger’s latest, a nonfiction book called Zeitoun. I usually don’t get so into the nonfiction books (which may be weird because I read tons and tons of nonfiction magazine articles, but there you go), but it looked lonely there at the Crescent City library with no date stamps on it (yes, they still do things the old fashioned way here—hand-stamping the date). So to break in the book, I picked it up and carted it off.

But since I was driving home, my wife started perusing it. Two days later when she had finished it, I was finally able to read it. And I too read it in two days. Zeitoun tells the story of the Zeitoun family living in New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina is about to hit. While his wife Kathy flees with their four kids, Syrian-born Abdulrahman stays behind to keep an eye on their home and business. He begins helping others where he can, feeding dogs and picking up the elderly in the canoe he uses to traverse the city streets. All the way, calling his wife each day to say how he is safe and well. Until the day when the phone calls stop and she has no idea where he is or what happened to him. It doesn't lesson the heartbreak for the reader to know that he was arrested for looting his own home and accused of being part of Al Qaeda. And things get worse.

Eggers’ style is pretty spare. Not much in the way of flowery passages or any of the literary hijinks he’s known for. He gets to the point, detailing Zeitoun’s story in a straightforward manner. But the story is the thing. On one level it's about a man working hard and trying to do his best yet beat up by the injustice of a broken system. But on another level it's an indictment of the Bush administration and "Heckuva Job" Brownie and all that went wrong in New Orleans. Though I should note that Eggers rightfully lets their actions and/or inactions speak for themselves.  This is no polemic.

Zeitoun is an important work, and should be read by anyone who thinks the problems of Katrina are all behind us now.

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