Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

Painting contractor Abdulrahman Zeitoun of New Orleans was nearly a model citizen. As an immigrant from Syria, he had worked hard to build up his own business with dozens of employees and many loyal customers across the city. He had children in school and was a good neighbor. His only fault was not obeying the mayor's order to vacate the city in advance of Hurricane Katrina. In Zeitoun author Dave Eggers recounts the good deeds, bad fortune, and graceful recovery of an honest man wrongfully accused of being something that he was not.

I was fortunate to read Zeitoun without knowing what was going to happen. Not wanting to spoil the story but to urge reading, I will say that the book is divided into several sections that correspond with parts of the story: before Katrina, during Katrina, soon after Katrina, another week after, the resolution of the story, and an epilogue. In telling this story, Eggers also tells about Zeitoun's childhood and years as a sailor. I also see the book in two emotional halves. The first is light, joyful, inspiring, and the second is dark, troubling, apt to make the reader very angry. At the end, Eggers explains what happened as partly justified and wholly regrettable.

After finishing the book, I wondered how I had missed this story. In my search of newspaper and magazine databases, I found no mention of Zeitoun and his misfortunes until the reviews of Eggers's book, reinforcing the point that we sometimes have no idea what happens in our country. Zeitoun would be a great discussion book.

Eggers, Dave. Zeitoun. McSweeney's Books, 2009. ISBN 9781934781630.

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