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Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

Zeitoun (original 2009; edition 2009)

by Dave Eggers

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,9221421,970 (4.1)293
Authors:Dave Eggers
Info:McSweeney's (2009), Hardcover, 342 pages
Collections:Read but unowned

Work details

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers (2009)

  1. 50
    What Is the What by Dave Eggers (jmarsico)
  2. 10
    A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge by Josh Neufeld (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: Neufeld's compelling graphic novel depicts the effects of Hurricane Katrina through the true stories of seven of the city's residents.
  3. 10
    1 Dead in Attic: After Katrina by Chris Rose (BookshelfMonstrosity)
    BookshelfMonstrosity: A columnist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Rose delves into the aftereffects of the storm on his adopted city in this compelling collection of essays.
  4. 21
    Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans by Dan Baum (bdav1818)
  5. 10
    Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink (TooBusyReading)
    TooBusyReading: Both books are fascinating and heartbreaking looks at how much went wrong as Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.
  6. 00
    Isaac's storm by Erik Larson (SqueakyChu)
    SqueakyChu: Story of the hurricane in Galveston in 1900 resulting in unexpected and devastating flooding
  7. 00
    A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disaster by Rebecca Solnit (Othemts)
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    Proved Innocent by Gerry Conlon (Othemts)
  9. 00
    The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland by Jim Defede (LynnB)
    LynnB: Story of ordinary people, like Mr. Zeitoun, who made a difference.
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» See also 293 mentions

English (134)  Dutch (5)  German (2)  Spanish (1)  All languages (142)
Showing 1-5 of 134 (next | show all)
Though I enjoyed Dave Eggers' What is the What?, I was never entirely comfortable with the genre, which, like Zeitoun, takes the form of a non-fiction novel. In that first work, I was not always sure who was speaking, Eggers or the protagonist, Achak, and I was perpetually unclear about how much was fact and how much was the fictional glue required to hold it together. The approach did serve the storytelling: it was fascinating and very readable.

With Zeitoun, I was initially comfortable with this same tension, and it was not long before I was totally buying Eggers' thesis about this quintessentially American man, hardworking and dedicated deeply to his religion, his family, his property, and his enterprise, who ultimately encounters a darker America, where one's treatment is less a function of guilt or innocence, and more about one's name, ethnicity, and religion.

At that point in my reading, I did some supplementary research about Hurricane Katrina, and the Zeitouns themselves, and discovered what any quick internet search will reveal, that after Katrina, Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun's relationship descended into acrimony, domestic abuse, and eventually divorce and violated restraining orders. In the book their relationship comes across as a much tried, but resilient pillar of strength in the midst of the post-Katrina failure of American society and institutions. Although Kathy Zeitoun has indicated that Eggers did describe their marriage pretty much as it was during that brief window covered by the book, she has since said that she was abused by her husband prior to the events depicted.

This supplmentary information, in and of itself, did not discredit the Katrina-related events of Zeitoun, but once I was aware of it, how could I possibly have continued to empathize with Abdulrahman as a victim? The entire edifice of the book became as leaky as a Louisiana levee, and my focus inevitably moved from the story itself to the limitations of how the story was told. Would a more traditional journalistic treatment have uncovered the details that Zeitoun missed? Does the necessity of forcing a fictionalized narration on real events and people necessarily result in an oversimplified interpretation? Does it force the subjects to reveal only what will support that interpretation? And if the published story widely misses the mark, what is the impact on those who were misrepresented or who misrepresented themselves?

In considering these questions, I thought of the brilliant Behind the Beautiful Forevers, for which Katherine Boo spent three years with her subjects. Her book demonstrates that the non-fiction novel can succeed in incorporating many viewpoints and complexities. Handled with enough artistry, effort, and care, this genre is more than just a vehicle for immersing the reader in other, real people's lives, it can also provide a way to successfully capture something resembling the tangled intricacy of the human situation. Who knows how or why Zeitoun failed? In that moment of extraordinary upheaval when it was written, likely all involved acted to some degree in good faith. It may have just proven too fraught a challenge for the time and resources that were brought to the task. ( )
  maritimer | Sep 13, 2015 |
** spoiler alert **

Well-written, engaging, heartbreaking book. Given all that has happened to the Zeitoun family since the book was published, it makes me wonder how much was intentionally whitewashed by Eggers or the Zeitouns, versus how much emotional and mental damage Katrina and its aftermath inflicted. We will likely never know the answer. Regardless, this books gives a raw, harrowing account of New Orleans in the post-Katrina chaos, and while difficult to stomach, I am grateful for knowing more of the truth of the dystopia that emerged after the storm. ( )
  grkmwk | Aug 31, 2015 |
This book gives a good account of one man's life during Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. I was living in a media vacuum during Hurricane Katrina, so I really never got the idea of how horrible things were in New Orleans after the storm. It is really saddening that in many ways the storm brought out the worst in humanity. I guess I have an idealistic notion that when disaster strikes people will band together and rise above what nature has thrown at them.

I originally gave this book four stars, but I am trying to be more conservative with my ratings. I found the writing to be a little dry compared with other things I have read by Eggers, and in some parts I just wasn't very captivated by the way the story was told. Despite the three star rating, I would still recommend it. ( )
  klburnside | Aug 11, 2015 |
Zeitoun gives us a scary glimpse into the breakdown of social and legal systems in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. While it's the personal story of the injustice visited on one man, it chills the reader to realize how thin is the margin between the boundaries of a civil society and chaos. Abdulaman Zeitoun is a Syrian immigrant who has succeeded in the United States. He comes from a proud and hard working family and in line with their admirable work ethic, he established a prosperous painting contracting business in New Orleans and married a native Louisiana women who had converted to Islam. They appear to have a loving and close-knit family.

As Hurricane Katrina approaches the family debates whether to evacuate. Kathy and the children leave to stay with her family in Baton Rouge. Zeitoun is determined to ride out the storm so he can look after rental properties they own and keep an eye on his business assets. Like tens of thousands of other New Orleanians Zeitoun soon realizes that the effects of the storm are much more devastating than anticipated. His house is flooded but he has a canoe that he uses to paddle around the city doing as many good deeds as he can. He is able to stay dry in a rental home that has not been flooded. His family worries about him but he reassures them via frequent cell phone contact.

A few days into the catastrophe armed police and National Guardsmen burst into his home and arrest him. Because of some property seen in the home they have concluded that he and his associates are looters. Looting, of course, was widespread throughout the city and one of the ugliest consequences of the storm. Zeitoun is whisked off to a makeshift lockup facility where the conditions are deplorable. He can get no legal representation and cannot contact his family. For a time, due to his ethnicity, he is suspected of being a terrorist but later inquiry by agents of Homeland Security disabuse this misapprehension. His family becomes frantic when they have not heard from him in days but they can gather no information about his well-being or whereabouts.

Zeitoun and the others are taken to a state prison where they are kept without legal representation for several weeks. Finally, through the unstinting efforts of family and friends he is freed, although the authorities still propose to charge him with misdemeanors. He finally clears his name.

The point of Zeitoun's experience is not that the legal system failed one man; sadly, this happens all too often. More deeply, it tells us that the civic, social and legal ties that bind us are very fragile. The looting that broke out after the storm was deplorable (another author has made the moral distinction between taking goods necessary for survival -- food, water, medicine -- and the wanton stealing and destruction that was seen in and around New Orleans), but that the response to looting brought with it complete disregard for the rule of law that the authorities are obliged to follow is disturbing.

For another and broader view of how our civic institutions failed so abysmally David Brinkley's book "The Deluge" is recommended. As well, the horrific story of the inability to protect vulnerable sick people at Memorial Hospital is told in "Five Days at Memorial".

Checking in on the Zeitoun's after the resolution of his legal problems reveals a sad outcome for Zeitoun and his wife. They divorced and he was later convicted with assault and charged with conspiring to have her murdered, a charge of which he was found innocent. They seemed in the story to be such a loving and loyal couple that perhaps the strain of their experience in Katrina was too much to sustain their ties. ( )
  stevesmits | Jun 30, 2015 |
A deeply troubling account of one family's experience during and after Hurricane Katrina. The book is a reminder of the horrific consequences of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing. Living in the United States with politically incorrect skin color continues to be a perpetually possible nightmare. No answers suggested in this book, just the truth of one family's nightmare come true. ( )
  hemlokgang | Apr 28, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 134 (next | show all)
In “Zeitoun,” what Dave Eggers has found in the Katrina mud is the full-fleshed story of a single family, and in telling that story he hits larger targets with more punch than those who have already attacked the thematic and historic giants of this disaster. It’s the stuff of great narrative nonfiction.
"Zeitoun" is a warm, exciting and entirely fresh way of experiencing Hurricane Katrina.

Eggers' sympathy for Zeitoun is as plain and real as his style in telling the man's story. He doesn't try to dazzle with heartbreaking pirouettes of staggering prose; he simply lets the surreal and tragic facts speak for themselves.

» Add other authors (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Dave Eggersprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Timmermann, KlausÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wasel, UlrikeÜbersetzersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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...in the history of the world it might even be that there was more punishment than crime...
Cormac McCarthy, The Road

To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
Mark Twain
For Abdulrahman, Kathy, Zachary, Nademah, Aisha, Safiya, and Ahmad in New Orleans.

For Ahmad, Antonia, Lutfi, and Laila in Málaga.

For Kousay, Nada, Mahmoud, Zakiya, Luay, Eman, Fahzia, Fatimah, Aisha, Munah, Nasibah, and all the Zeitouns of Jableh, Lattakia, and Arwad Island.

For the people of New Orleans.
First words
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.
Information from the Dutch Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
...in de geschiedenis van de wereld is er misschien wel meer straf geweest dan misdaad...
Cormac McCarthy, The Road (De weg)

Voor wie een hamer heeft, lijkt alles op een spijker.
Mark Twain
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, longtime New Orleans residents Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun are cast into an unthinkable struggle with forces beyond wind and water. In the days after the storm, Abdulrahman traveled the flooded streets in a secondhand canoe, passing on supplies and helping those he could. A week later, on September 6, 2005, Zeitoun abruptly disappeared-- arrested and accused of being an agent of al Qaeda.… (more)

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