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The true story of one family, caught between America’s two biggest policy disasters: the war on terror and the response to Hurricane Katrina.

Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun run a house-painting business in New Orleans. In August of 2005, as Hurricane Katrina approaches, Kathy evacuates with their four young children, leaving Zeitoun to watch over the business. In the days following the storm he travels the city by canoe, feeding abandoned animals and helping elderly neighbors. Then, on September 6th, police officers armed with M-16s arrest Zeitoun in his home. Told with eloquence and compassion, Zeitoun is a riveting account of one family’s unthinkable struggle with forces beyond wind and water.

342 pages, Hardcover

First published July 15, 2009

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About the author

Dave Eggers

322 books8,511 followers
Dave Eggers is the author of ten books, including most recently Your Fathers, Where Are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever?, The Circle and A Hologram for the King, which was a finalist for the 2012 National Book Award. He is the founder of McSweeney’s, an independent publishing company based in San Francisco that produces books, a quarterly journal of new writing (McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern), and a monthly magazine, The Believer. McSweeney’s also publishes Voice of Witness, a nonprofit book series that uses oral history to illuminate human rights crises around the world. Eggers is the co-founder of 826 National, a network of eight tutoring centers around the country and ScholarMatch, a nonprofit organization designed to connect students with resources, schools and donors to make college possible. He lives in Northern California with his family.

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Profile Image for Imogen.
Author 6 books1,380 followers
August 16, 2009
Will you remind me again why we all hate Dave Eggers so much? I remember reading What Is The What as an act of defiance against the culture at the Strand, where all the book snobs I was working with were way, far too cool to like him. I don't think I looked into the situation very critically though. I mean, at the time I was more interested in reading as confrontation than I was in understanding that confrontation.

But now I'm old! So let's talk about it. Is it because he's popular? He's not, actually, that popular. I mean, he is. Sure. He's enormously popular for a writer who's basically self-publishing his books on his own press, so all us idiots invested in being cool can hate him for being a sell-out- it's a special kind of hate we reserve for our own who are successful. Or for being too pomo for his own good (an argument that really only applies to A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, which was his first book, and which I maintain was actually a meditation on self-consciousness, and a pretty insightful one)! House of Leaves wasn't unnecessarily pomo, some of us will argue, but A Heartbreaking Work certainly was.

You could also hate him like the way people hate on Bono- specifically, "dude, Bono's a fuckin rock star so he thinks he's a politician," we will say. To which, hopefully, someone will counter, "No, actually, Bono is famous, so he tries to use his fame to actually do some good in the world instead of just buying mountains of coke and a fleet of cars." (If it's me retorting, here, I will also throw in something about how, while it's cool for him to try to do good in the world, U2's rhythm section is still probably the most boring one in the world.) And so Eggers does the same thing; I remember not getting much from his fiction. And you can't coast on self-conscious memoir all your life (can you, Augusten Burroughs? Oh, I guess some of us can, but only if we're smug and think we're smarter than everyone else). So Dave Eggers stumbled into this way to actually do some good in the world: he writes these novelly, semi-first-person not-really-journalistic nonfiction books about fucked up shit that happens in the world, and then uses his specific kind of fame to go on NPR and talk about them, and to get his built in NPR-listenin audience to learn about them.

I have an ugly hat onto which I sewed a patch that reads TSPX, and to you, Mr. Eggers, I remove that hat.

Blah blah, this is obviously where Zeitoun is situated culturally. Can you tell us anything about the book, Imogen?


Firstly, he writes some of the most clear, direct prose around. But it's not simple and straightforward in a bad way, like U2's rhythm section- it's uncomplicated and transparent like a goddam, I don't know, acoustic guitar playing you some chords, in time, without any soloing or note bending or anything. The writing just kind of gets you there. I think this has been read by some folks as pretentious, especially in the context of all the faux-old-timey simplicity we get from McSweeney's, but I think... I mean, fuck it. Zeitoun is not McSweeneys.net, you know? It's a story about a real guy (and his wife, and their family) who did some real things and had some fucked up real things happen to him. The author's voice isn't smirking. It's not really a funny book, but it's not dry, either, which is hard to pull off, you know?

I mean, okay, I am totally gay for layout on the interior of a book: the typeface is beautiful, the margins are inviting, the painted cover (similar to the painted cover of What Is The What) is inviting. It feels good in your hands, the way a Skittle feels good in your mouth.

Anyway, I read the whole fucker in a day, and- if you've been following me on goodreads for a while- you know I haven't been into anything enough to read it in a day in a long time. So... so yeah. There is disturbing shit in this book, and there is charming shit in this book, but I can't think of a good reason (besides lack of access) not to read it. I'm over hating on Dave Eggers, all shamefully admitting that What is the What was actually pretty good. Fuck that! Dave Eggers is doing a good job.
Profile Image for LA Cantrell.
424 reviews553 followers
July 7, 2019
Y'all. This book is VERY LIKELY FICTION and poor Eggers got conned, bless his heart. The Zeitouns/Zetons painted our uptown house in the late 90s, and after their arrests, I paid attention whenever their names showed up in the Times-Picayune. Anybody who lives in the Garden District or really anywhere uptown in New Orleans knows about these guys. If you check the logs of the NOLA Better Business Bureau, there were more complaints lodged against their painting business than all of the other combined complaints in the history of their record-keeping.

Fred (Fuad) was the smooth talking cousin and business partner of the hero of this (supposedly nonfiction) story. Zeitoun has more convictions for fraud and identity theft than I have socks. Abdul - the hero of this story - as most now know, was arrested for attempted first degree murder - for beating his wife Kathy with a tire iron and for soliciting her murder for $20K...he is in jail at present for felony stalking charges. With their business arrangement, Fred was the main contact for clients and brought us -and many others - a scrap book with photos of the homes of our local Mayor, the DA, and other luminaries whose homes the Zetouns/Zetons had painted. See the links below for just a small sampler of his hijinks.

I could tell you how horribly the Zeitouns treated the hard working African American crew who sanded, scraped, and caulked my house (and were never paid), but the best story is about a lone worker named Rene that they brought in to replace the four black gents. After three weeks, they wouldn't pay him either. He had young daughters back in Ecuador, and I invited him to stop back by on a Saturday to pick up some clothes that no longer fit me. When Rene got there, the Zeitoun's Syrian crew had just arrived. He went up to Fred to ask him for his pay, and Fred went egomaniac on him. Fred happens to be a semi-professional boxer (the Syrian Assassin was what he went by back then), and he went after Rene.

Fred beat up this little man from Central America right there on my back deck while I looked on. Fred punched Rene so hard that it knocked him off the stairs, out of my closed gate, and rolled him backward out onto the public sidewalk. Rene then grabbed a 5 gallon bucket of slate-blue paint and doused Fred with it. He looked exactly like Papa Smurf and was crazily enraged. I thought he was going to beat René to death before I could get the police out there to stop them. It was horrible.

So yes, while Fred was the one mostly in the public eye, the Zetons/Zeitouns are known locally as being violent and con artists. http://m.bestofneworleans.com/gambit/... Keep reading the links in the comments section below for more newspaper articles.

While I believe Eggers wrote the tale beautifully (he is an excellent writer), knowing what our Nola neighbors and I do about these con men, my guess is that three quarters of this book is pure b#llsh^t. Eggers’ hero of the story is a convicted felon who twice tried to pay someone to kill his wife Kathy. When he was arrested for trying to beat her to death with a tire iron on Prytania Street (where I used to live). , there is "testimony from two bystanders that proved the severity of the tire-iron attack. One, James Barber, told the judge he had to douse Zeitoun with pepper spray and punch him "20 times" to get him off his ex-wife. Another witness, Charlotte Rolfs, said she pulled over while driving by on Prytania Street to come to the woman's aid as she was being choked. "My thought was that he was going to kill her right there," she told Marullo. "That's how strong it looked to me."

He was also taken into custody after knocking Kathy onto the floor and slamming her face repeatedly onto the floor while their little children looked on. One of their girls ran over and kicked her father, this story's hero, while he was sitting astride her mom's back, bashing her head into the floorboards. He then ran out of the house to evade the police. He beat their 15 year old daughter for taking off her headscarf as well.

Eggers really writes a great story, but I highly doubt that much of it is true. Ask ANYBODY from the Garden District, and they'll tell you the same thing - few of us trust Fred or Abdul Zeitoun. As for his arrest for looting and being temporarily housed in an outdoor holding area, that I buy. The jail, however, had neither electricity or clean running water. There were no judges or attorneys or bailiffs around - the streets were flooded and people were either stuck at home or were evacuated. NOBODY in the entire city had power or water - it wasn’t just the jail. Heat indexes inside multi story buildings were 112+ degrees. Sitting outside in the shade and sleeping under the stars was what everybody did. Including the backlogged looters and violent arrestees.

I feel bad for the hoodwinked author but it is aggravating to hear random people praise Zeitoun like he is some sort of saint-like martyr. The book is a great read, but in my opinion, is more a fairy tale than nonfiction.
Profile Image for James.
Author 20 books3,724 followers
April 30, 2023
The book club I belonged to several years ago selected Zeitoun and we had a week to read it. I enjoyed the book and hadn't realized how many horrible things happened in New Orleans besides the actual impact of the hurricane. Based on some reality, the story helps a non-Louisiana native understand the true impacts of the hurricane, not only on the land but on the people.

The imagery and language were strong, and the characterizations were very intricate. Since reading the books, I've spent time in Louisiana (both rural and New Orleans) and hear so many different stories of what actually happened.

I may re-read this one in preparation for the next American Crime Story TV anthology. I enjoyed the "OJ Simpson" season 1 so much and am excited to see what they can do with the impacts of Hurricane Katrina. And this book will help me prepare and remember as much as I can before diving in.
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,863 followers
September 11, 2014
I am still trembling from rage, disbelief, and sadness -having closed the back cover of this book a few minutes ago. Aside from newspaper and magazine articles that I read in the weeks and months following Hurricane Katrina, this is the first long and complete account I have read of a family's experience in the disaster. It is a tremendous and devastating work, told with such forthrightness, simplicity and respect. I highly recommend it to all.

What strikes me as I read several of the Goodreads reviews that follow is the degree of dissatisfaction expressed by readers for Eggers's approach to this book and his style. This reaction comes from avowed fans of Eggers, who has generated a huge following of hipster, Gen X, Y, yuppie and largely WASPY readers since his breakout works What is the What and A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. Perhaps I am the last registered Democrat who has not read any Eggers until Zeitoun, but at the very least I went into this book with zero expectations of the story I would find or of the writer who assembled it.

Now that the reading is over, I have little sense of Eggers's voice, which is one precise reason why I rate this so highly- the story is not his, it is that of the Zeitoun's. Eggers served as a conduit and his skill as a writer is apparent in how quickly one forgets he is there.

I also reserve judgment of the actions of Zeitoun, never once questioning his desire to remain behind in New Orleans to guard his home and to serve as caretaker for the property and possessions of his friends and neighbors. It seemed completely fitting with the character of this brave and proud man. Nor did I have the sense that Zeitoun was presented as or ever considered himself a victim of anti-Muslim backlash following September 11; it is simply and horribly the reality of the world in which he, others of Arab descent, followers of Islam, and those whose skin tone and facial features might possibly identify them as potential threats now live. That these fears didn't appear to have anything to do with his arrest and incarceration doesn't diminish their potency.

This is a love story- love by a man for his wife, children, his community, his business, and for the country he adopted as home. It is a story of shattered hearts and dreams, a tragedy so Shakespearean in scale it seems impossible to believe that is really happened. But it did- and this is just one story, one man, one family. All thanks to Dave Eggers, McSweeney's Books and the Voice from the Storm Project for bringing it to light.

Profile Image for Marc.
3,110 reviews1,176 followers
April 15, 2022
This easy-to-read docu-fiction is NOT about the misery caused by hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in the summer of 2005. The real subject of Eggers is the inadequate organization of American society and how quickly it can descend to the level of a banana republic. He uses the example of the well-integrated Syrian migrant, Abdulrahman Zeitoun and his family, living and working in New Orleans. Due to the hurricane, Zeitoun gets into great difficulties and has to undergo numerous humiliations. This is mainly a consequence of the government's inadequate response, but it is also related to subcutaneous racism and the aftermath of September 9/11 (Zeitoun is an arab and a moslem).

Like in What Is the What Eggers used a real story, but this time he chose to take a narrators' position, and not the inner voice of the main character himself. That makes the story a bit less gripping than in the former book, but it also raises fewer questions about possible distortions by the author. However, - perhaps it is the cynic or skeptic in me - the image that Eggers paints of Zeitoun and his family is very idyllic; it's even close to hagiographic.

Finally, a bit of a wry remark: during his misery, Zeitoun has to think several times about his home country of Syria, where a large part of his family has remained, and Eggers paints a picture of the poor, yet happy existence there. Seen from the perspective of today, 2018, after 5 years of Syrian civil war, shouldn’t we nuance the misery in New Orleans and the criticism on American society a bit? With some delay, Zeitoun succeeded in rebuilding his existence in New Orleans and getting some partial justice. I think, this places this book in another perspective, of course without undervaluating what went wrong in the US, in 2005.

Addendum: after my review some readers pointed me in the direction of press articles on what happened to Zeitoun and his wife, after the publication of the book: the divorce, the stalking, the murder attempts... I'm not going to judge anyone on the basis of these reports, or change my review of the book for that, especially since Zeitoun was almostly completely acquitted, but it adds to my suspicion that Eggers offered a much too idyllic image of the Zeitoun-family situation.
Profile Image for Jennifer (formerly Eccentric Muse).
468 reviews998 followers
January 1, 2011
Read between 11.30 pm and 4.45 a.m. last night. One big gulp of stinky, corrupt water and the lives that were washed away in it -- and continue to be devastated by injustices codified and rationalized by "The War On Terror" -- the U.S.'s own citizens murdered by ineptitude, bureacracy and a racist, elitist, fear-based world-view that prioritized building prisons over providing food, water and shelter.

Eggers at his very best. What he manages to do here (a lesson learned from the backlash against What Is The What? perhaps) is avoid the confusion and perceived trickery of calling this a "memoir-autobiography" and flat-out states this as non-fiction. What it is: a work of great investigative journalism, told through the eyes of a family that lived it, confirmed with secondary sources.

This is the Eggers we all want, I think: one who can weave real-world events and the social injustices they expose into compelling personal narrative that motivates others (readers) to action. At least, I hope this is what we want -- because we need this kind of voice, and this kind of literary journalism.

Sure, he gets a bit preachy at the end (but by that point, we want him to just SAY IT. Voice the anger; name the enemy.) And yes, there are the inevitable strings left hanging, story threads dropped or, conversely, too-neatly summed up, and a too-long "where are they now" section that really just introduced a whole bunch of other issues and sub-stories.

Still, it's few and far between the books that keep me up all night, and leave me shaking with anger, sad and mobilized at the same time.
Profile Image for Paul.
423 reviews49 followers
May 17, 2011
Definitely compelling -- once we get to the storm. The book starts off pretty slow and unsatisfying. Eggers needs to establish these characters, needs to make us care, but he does so with vast brushstrokes punctuated with only the occasional specific detail for balance. The problem is it's pure exposition and summary. In part I of the book there's virtually no scene. This made it extremely difficult to invest myself completely in the book. While I got an idea of who the Zeitouns were, I never really felt drawn into the book itself. I was bored, in other words. There are a number of flashbacks to Zeitoun's life in Syria, none of which I really found interesting. So, I slogged through and waited for the storm. Which, the storm itself isn't where the drama comes from here. The storm simply happens, and the aftermath propels the story forward. Zeitoun's home is uptown, away from where it seems the most extreme damage occurred. The water level simply rises, and he stays on the second floor or else on the roof. Which isn't a criticism, just a summary. And then this isn't even what drives the real drama. To avoid spoilers, I'll just say something happens to Zeitoun, and it reveals what a mess Katrina was from a governmental/bureaucratic standpoint; that's, I think, the point of the book, and it does hit pretty hard. So in that sense, it's a successful book. I continued to think about it after I finished reading it. Eggers's reporting is extensive and there don't seem to be any holes or details left uncovered. I think I just wanted stronger writing throughout. Bolder, more punchy sentences driving the narrative. The tale sort of tells itself; I wanted more from the author as author.
Profile Image for Mohamed Fawzy.
168 reviews104 followers
June 13, 2023

أن تكون عربياً ما أبشعه من جرم
خطر داهم ... وجرم خطير
أن تكون عربياً وتلك للأسف تهمة كبيرة قد ينتظرك معها الويل والثبور وعظائم الأمور
رواية تروي مأساة الشاب السوري عبد الرحمن زيتون المتزوج من امريكية
والذي كان يعيش حياة كاملة طبيعية في المجتمع الأمريكي كمقاول
تنقلب الأحداث معه بين عشية وضحاها مع قيام إعصار كاترينا
ليجد نفسه متهما بحفنة من التهم الخطيرة وبحاجة لكل عون
بحثت عن الاراء حولها ولم أجد عليها أي تعليق بالعربية
وحيرة حول هل لم يقرأ احد نسختها العربية أم أنها قرأت ولم تستحق التعليق من أحد
رواية جيدة ضمن مكتبتي
Profile Image for David.
517 reviews41 followers
January 2, 2016
I despised this book and my review contains spoilers.

(Posted August 10, 2012) Dave Eggers must do the general public a favor and retract his bogus and biased account of the Zeitoun family and their alleged trials after Hurricane Katrina. I’ve now learned Mr. Zeitoun has been accused of attempting to hire someone to kill his ex-wife Kathy Zeitoun (she’s painfully annoying but undeserving of the terrible treatment he’s heaped on her). Here’s the latest account:


The article also states: "In interviews this week, Kathy Zeitoun said the book is a faithful chronicle of that time.”

Bu!!$hit! Stay away from this book. The story wasn’t credible when it was published and in light of the latest news it’s downright pathetic.

(Posted August 8, 2012) There are so many reasons to hate this book and now, thanks to astute friend John Daugherty who alerted me to this latest incident, there's another. Mr. Zeitoun just happens to beat up women. I stand by my original review (below) of this book and would only add that while it appeared from the book that Mr. Zeitoun is a fine man he is in fact a piece of garbage.

Here's the article John sent to me:

Abdulrahman Zeitoun, the protagonist of Dave Eggers’s 2009 nonfiction bestseller Zeitoun, appeared in a New Orleans district court yesterday following his second arrest on charges of assaulting his now ex-wife in the past year.

The most recent arrest occurred on July 25, when Mr. Zeitoun allegedly struck Kathy Zeitoun with his fists and a tire iron and attempted to choke her outside of a lawyer’s office in Uptown New Orleans. At the time he was on probation for attacking Ms. Zeitoun in front of their children in March 2011, a charge to which he pleaded guilty last summer and was subsequently sentences to anger-management classes.

Magistrate Judge Gerard Hansen decided yesterday not to revoke Mr. Zeitoun’s probation in light of the new arrest. Mr. Zeitoun is currently being held on $150,000 bail. After the hearing, Ms. Zeitoun showed reporters photographs of bruises and scrapes, claiming that her ex-husband “tried to kill her,” and asserting that she believes he should be held without bail.

“I’m not going to be quiet about it anymore because being quiet puts him in a position to do it again,” Ms. Zeitoun told Greater New Orleans of her ex-husband’s violence. The couple was divorced earlier this year.

Mr. Eggers’s book chronicles Mr. Zeitoun’s wrongful arrest following Hurricane Katrina, when he was allegedly mistaken for a terrorist and detained at Elayn Hunt Correctional Center for over 20 days without ever standing trial.

We have reached out to McSweeney’s, the publisher of Zeitoun, for comment and as of writing this have not heard back.

Original review (posted June 15, 2011):

This book is a combination hagiography of Abdulrahman Zeitoun and heavy handed agenda against President George W. Bush's war on terror. While I'm not opposed to hagiographies or agendas I am opposed to a lack of balance and authorial laziness.

Mr. Zeitoun comes across as a fine man, a man I would love to have as a neighbor. He's modest, kind, practical, hard working, reliable and principled. He employs immigrants from all over the globe, pays them well and pays them on time. When he learned his company's rainbow logo was also a symbol of the gay community he decided to keep it despite the possibility that it may cost him some business (the author neglects to mention the possibility that it may earn him business as well, but that's a small point). So what is Mr. Zeitoun's biggest (and possibly only) flaw? Well, the author seems to suggest that from Mr. Bush's perspective it's that he's a devout muslim from Syria. Others have suggested hubris in his decision to remain in New Orleans during and after the hurricane. I would say that he's not circumspect. He thought there'd be no consequences to remaining in the city after a mandatory evacuation was ordered? Mr. Zeitoun stayed behind first and foremost to mind his business properties. He provided some assistance in the days following the hurricane but that wasn't his purpose for staying. He ultimately believed (or at least claims he believed) that God put him there for a specific purpose. (The book is full of stories of the role of the sea (both tragic and glorious, of course) in the story of the Zeitoun family in Syria which are included to provide dramatic tension. WIll Zeitoun be destroyed by the sea or will he emerge victorious? I don't know. He winds up in jail (not prison) on the bogus charge of looting (in his own property). The real reason? Why he's a middle eastern muslim of course. I can't say what happened to any of the middle eastern christians, the author is silent on their plight. The strange thing is that he spends far less time in jail than the two (white?) americans and fellow middle eastern muslim he was with when he was arrested. There's some vague talk about terrorism (he meets with an agent from Immigration and Customs Enforcement who was shockingly polite and courteous to Zeitoun) but he's never charged with looting, terrorism or operating a canoe without a proper license. On the downside the police/prison guards are pretty mean (if you can count to ten without using your fingers you would have easily been able to see that coming). So they beat him to within an inch of his life and they mock his religious beliefs? No, they're just not very pleasant and they offer him ham sandwiches every now and then. I guess the food service was somewhat limited in a flooded city after a category 5 hurricane, go figure. So there's proof positive the law enforcement personnel were xenophobes. And what of the crippling pain Zeitoun felt in his side while jailed? The one the prison personnel refused to look at? It went away. So much for that drama. I had a feeling that was going to happen too.

So clearly Mr. Zeitoun was the worst part of this book, right? Not by a long shot. Kathy Zeitoun (his wife) is easily the most irritating and unlikeable book subject to come along since Judith Souweine from Tracy Kidder's book House. If Judith was the teacher and Kathy was the student not since Thomas Aquinas and Albertus Magnus has the student so thoroughly surpassed the teacher. To suggest Kathy has no redeeming value is unfair. She's spunky. Actually I didn't care for her spunk. What I also didn't care for was her seeming insecurity, combativeness, moments of hysteria and drama and the sense I got that she's a perpetual victim. Unfortunately Kathy is one of the author's main witnesses and towards the end of the book we learn that she has significant bouts with memory loss and moments of utter confusion. She may be battling post-traumatic stress syndrome but amazingly she has yet to decide on a strategy to manage it. (Mr. & Mrs. Zeitoun have filed a civil lawsuit against the city, the state, the prisons, the police department, and a half-dozen other agencies and individuals (essentially anyone in America who walks upright). But they had no intention of suing anyone over Zeitoun's arrest. No, it was their family and friends that fanned their outrage and convinced them that those responsible needed to be held accountable. Unbelievable. If the Zeitouns were living in Syria in June 2011 I wonder how they'd feel about the political and human rights climate there. Add a category 5 hurricane and flooding to the mix and see what they think of that situation. Before I leave the subject of the lawsuit I have to confess that I'm a bit confused as to how Mr. Zeitoun in good conscience could be a party to such a lawsuit when he attributes his trials to God's will.) And what of Kathy? After all of this stress when she eats any small thing (a PIECE of pasta!) her stomach will swell to DOUBLE its original size. (I did not make that up.) Is that hyperbole, literary license, a typo or simply ridiculous?

I have so much more griping to do (I have many more notes) but it's forcing me to relive this awful book so I'm going to curtail my complaints.

Okay, just one more to the author: In America they color gray is spelled with an a not an e. It doesn't make you seem more intelligent when you write it as grey. I would gladly let that go if this book wasn't so irritating on so many levels.

If you're looking for a good book about government injustice I'd like to recommend Tulia by Nate Blakeslee, Down by the River by Charles Bowden, Praying for Sheetrock by Melissa Fay Greene, The Weight of a Mustard Seed by Wendell Steavenson or In the Name of the Father by Gerry Conlon.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for piperitapitta.
964 reviews354 followers
August 28, 2018
Dave adesso è un formidabile uomo.

Non è un'opera d'arte e non sarà mai un capolavoro della letteratura, ma è un'opera di grande umanità e spessore morale.
Dave Eggers sceglie anche questa volta - dopo Erano solo ragazzi in cammino, uno di quei libri capaci di cambiare la vita e, a mio parere, una delle cose più belle che abbia mai letto - l'impegno civile.
Sceglie di raccontare, dopo le vicende del genocidio in Sudan, gli effetti devastanti dell'uragano Katrina a New Orleans, negli Stati Uniti, nel 2005, in casa sua.
Sceglie la cronaca, Dave Eggers, sceglie di far conoscere al mondo la storia della famiglia Zeituon, iniziando a raccontarcela sin dalle ore immediatamente precedenti all'arrivo dell'uragano, da quelle ore in cui Katrina passerà da una classificazione 1 - quella più insignificante - ad una classificazione 5 - la più temibile, quella equivalente alla tempesta tropicale.

Gli Zeitoun sono una famiglia musulmana: madre statunitense convertita all'Islam, padre di nascita siriana e quattro bambini, di cui uno nato dal primo matrimonio di Kathy.
Gli Zeitoun sono perfettamente integrati nella comunità locale, hanno una piccola impresa familiare che si occupa di ristrutturazioni e tinteggiatura, il cui simbolo sul furgoncino che gira per i quartieri della città è un arcobaleno.
Gli Zeitoun lavorano sodo e raramente Abdulrahman Zeitoun (che l'autore sin dall'inizio del suo racconto sceglie di chiamare semplicemente "Zeitoun", così come usano fare anche i suoi conoscenti) si prende un giorno di ferie, perché sa che nel suo lavoro la presenza e la tempestività sono fondamentali per essere chiamati, ed è proprio per questo motivo, oltre che per controllare gli appartamenti di cui è proprietario in città, che è riluttante sin dall'inizio ad abbandonare la città per mettersi al sicuro.
E infatti non lo farà Zeitoun; mentre Kathy e i bambini si recano a Baton Rouge, a circa ottanta miglia da New Orleans, dove arriveranno dopo un viaggio interminabile, molto simile ad un'odissea per durata e disagi, nella casa di famiglia di Kathy, lui resterà solo in casa per cercare di prevenire e limitare i danni dell'uragano in arrivo.

Quando Katrina sarà passata lasciando solo devastazione e morte, una devastazione che noi possiamo arrivare solo lontanamente ad immaginare e solamente aiutandoci con Google per cercare delle foto che ce lo testimonino, Zeitoun inizierà a girare per la città allagata, e apparentemente deserta, con la canoa che teneva inutilizzata nel suo garage, cercando di aiutare quante più persone riuscirà ad aiutare e cercando di verificare l'entità dei danni a persone e cose di sua conoscenza.
Ma quella che Dave Eggers vuole raccontarci non è solo la storia della devastazione prodotta dall'uragano anzi, paradossalmente, l'uragano è solo il pretesto, è lo scenario apocalittico in cui si insidiano e si innescano, in maniera spaventosamente (dis)organizzata, gli effetti traumatici del post 11 settembre, di quel clima di sospetto e di colpevolizzazione che punta l'indice contro tutto ciò che proviene dal mondo islamico.

Zeitoun è statunitense, è un padre di famiglia e un marito amato, è rispettato, è un gran lavoratore, paga le tasse: ma tutto questo, nel dopo Katrina, dopo l'11 Settembre, negli Stati Uniti del ventunesimo secolo non conta più niente, perché Zeitoun è un nemico della nazione.
Dave Eggers, dopo essere venuto a conoscenza della sua storia grazie ad uno speciale sulle storie degli sfollati di New Orleans pubblicato su McSweeney's, la rivista creativa di cui è l'editore, decide di raccontarla al mondo, perché gli Stati Uniti sono così: immensi e pieni di contraddizioni, ma anche la patria di chi come Zeitoun l'ha scelta dopo aver girato il mondo ed è ancora convinto di "poter fare", e di chi, come Dave Eggers, un uomo buono, ha capito che l'impegno civile, per lui che ha la fortuna di essere nato e cresciuto nel più grande paese del mondo, forse conta più della letteratura.

[edit, 28/08/2018] Non tutte le belle storie, però, sopravvivono al passare del tempo. Il guaio, con i libri che non sono di fiction, è che le persone cambiano. I film bisogna farli in fretta. Così il progetto di realizzarne uno, che raccontasse delle vicissitudini della famiglia durante l’uragano Katrina, naufragano a causa dell’arresto di Abdulrahman Zeitoun nel 2012, accusato di aver progettato l’omicidio della moglie Kathy, dalla quale, nel frattempo, si era separato.
Quell'uomo era vero, dice la moglie. Ma non c'è più. È diventato sempre più aggressivo, violento con la famiglia. Le sue convinzioni si sono radicalizzate, tanto da non sopportare i calzoncini della figlia. «Era un uomo buono, è cambiato troppo. Anche lo scrittore Dave Eggers - dice la donna - ha condannato il suo comportamento».

Profile Image for ☮Karen.
1,535 reviews9 followers
December 16, 2016
If I may say so without sounding like a heartless wench, after hearing about Hurricane Katrina every day of my life for about three straight years, I was in no mood to also read a book based on one of its many survivors. I know it was a horrible, deplorable event but felt that Brian Williams stayed on that story a bit too long, or too often, for its own good. My heart broke for the people, I did what I could, and felt horrible I couldn't do more, and that our government did not do more good. What I didn't know, what I don't think Brian Williams told us, was the whole story of what the government was doing to some survivors.

So it was finally time for me to relive Katrina through the eyes of Abdul Zeitoun and his wife. Zeitoun, as he was known, was a Syrian immigrant who did quite well for himself -- a small business owner and rental property owner, and all around nice guy. When his wife and children evacuated, he stayed to keep his eye on their house, business, and properties. He saved several neighbors and found four stranded dogs to feed just in his first days of the aftermath out in his trusty canoe. Staying in New Orleans eventually turned out to be a bad decision and he and some friends were falsely arrested. This part of the book was shocking and sadly displayed what happens when our Constitutional rights are ignored by authorities and people in crisis mode forget basic kindnesses. Really a sad story that never should have been allowed to happen. FEMA had its moments here too, but for the most part had little to do with Zeitoun's experience.

This would have been 5 stars if not for the very strange flow of the story from one random thought to other entirely unrelated bits of information. Other reviewers were harsher on Eggers for this. I thought it also showed sloppy editing.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,599 reviews8,730 followers
May 7, 2016
“What is building, and rebuilding and rebuilding again, but an act of faith?”
― Dave Eggers, Zeitoun


There is something bold and yet quiet about 'Zeitoun' the book and Zeitoun the man. There is also something bold about Dave Eggers. I don't always like the flashier parts of Eggers. The sparkle and the shake of 'A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius' or the fur-covered binding of 'The Wild Things' didn't really capture me like they did some. But after reading 'A Hologram for the King' I've started recognizing it for what it is -- David Eggers is simply enthusiastic, ebullient about ideas and people. He can't help himself. He has an idea and he wants it big or bigger. He wants Zeitoun's story written across the sky. For most of us the wish or desire is enough. It fills us up. We are done there and can go to bed and rest comfortably. The brilliance of the idea quickly gets burned out as the sun of the rest of our lives burns our dreams away. The brilliance (or genius) of David Eggers is his ability to follow up on these quirky little ideas. He has tremendous follow-through. He doesn't forget, he doesn't dispose, he uses and crafts and makes and publishes.

Not every book written by Eggers will be genius, but his ENERGY is always genius. His momentum is always brilliant. And, 'Zeitoun' the book was brilliant. It showed the beauty of people and the inhumanity of bureaucracies. It is the story of America. How America can contain both the best and the worst of humanity, often lit by the same light and drowned/baptized by the same waters.
Profile Image for Laura.
230 reviews13 followers
December 10, 2014
Half-way through reading this book, I decided to Google Abdulrahman Zeitoun. The book was getting stressful and I wanted to make sure he survived. I found out that yes, he did survive, but I also found out the horrifying truth. He's been arrested multiple times since the book's publication for choking his now ex-wife and beating her with a tire iron, for ordering a hit on her and his stepson, and for continuous violations of restraining orders that have lead to a felony stalking charge. He's a horrible person!

This was shocking since this book is the definition of hagiographic. Zeitoun is portrayed as a saint, endlessly devoted to his wife and children, a responsible business owner who risks his own safety to stay behind and help people in the aftermath of Katrina. Well, you might ask, maybe this happened because of Katrina? Maybe he suffered from severe PTSD? I thought this as well, until reading that his wife testified in court that he'd been beating her for their entire marriage, a decade before Katrina ever happened. And they are in protracted court battles over their shared properties because, according to him, his wife is a woman and therefore doesn't deserve anything.

What the hell happened? Was the author completely fooled? I don't know. But it did completely influence my reading of the book. When there were scenes of Zeitoun caring for abandoned dogs, all I could think of was him beating his wife in public with a tire iron. Tender scenes between him and his children reminded me of what I'd read in a newspaper of his daughter fleeing to a neighbor's house to get away from him. The disconnect between the character in the book and reality was staggering.

And it's too bad because it is a well-written book, informative and easy to read. It covers a lot of interesting topics regarding Katrina, the abuses of power in its aftermath, and the media's irresponsible reporting. But once you realize the Zeitoun presented in the book is a totally fictional character, entirely incongruous with the real-life man, it becomes impossible to read his story and root for him.
Profile Image for E.
384 reviews82 followers
April 13, 2013
"The artist doesn't matter." So say I in my GoodReads profile. What about the inspiration for the story? Does he matter?

After finishing the book, I had to push my heart back down my throat. I had mini-nightmares about what I had read. I took a deep breath and made a note of buying a copy for a close friend's upcoming birthday. And, as with all books I love, I searched for online reviews and varying opinions, and stumbled upon the real-life murder charges brought against Zeitoun this past fall:


Does it matter? Politically, I suppose so. Instead of feeling simply outraged over the injustice a model citizen was forced to endure, I think it over and have to compartmentalize my anger. If the recent charges against Zeitoun are true, I am furious for having been so drawn to someone capable of such cruelty. But if I believe at all in civil rights/prisoners' rights, then I still believe he is innocent until proven guilty, a cornerstone of democratic justice that his abusers in the book never honored. So politically, the horrors he endured remain horrors despite whatever crimes he may have committed.

But artistically? Does any of this matter? Artistically we forgive all kinds of horrific faults. Art is all about the blurry line between good and evil, the exquisite and the banal, the beautiful and the repulsive. We revel in Heathcliffe and Dorian Grey and Sweeney Todd and Erik the Phantom of the Opera and the jerks in The Corrections because they entertain and act out our basest impulses and fantasies. Can Zeitoun the storybook character ever serve the same purpose, or is he too close to home? Is his real-life horror story a harsh reminder of how much real-life disappoints?

I'm not sure I'm one to say what is true. The only truth I know after all this contemplation is that I enjoyed the book. So five stars - for now at least.

Profile Image for Richard.
1,147 reviews1,043 followers
February 10, 2012
Rave review in the New York Times.

I'm on Amtrak today, on the first of a three-day trip to New Orleans. I checked five books out of the library just before leaving, then pondered and left two of them at home. This morning I started in on Zeitoun, and this evening I finished it. Maybe I should have brought more than three books? (I also listened to many hours of podcasts when I decided the scenery was nice enough that I didn't want to be reading — it turns out train trips are a great way of catching up on media backlogs).

The book was a powerful reminder of how screwed up the U.S. legal system can be when checks and balances are removed.

Incredible story.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
350 reviews395 followers
December 2, 2015
File this under "The Best Book You've Never Heard Of," or at least it was one of the best books I'd never heard of until it was recommended as the next read for our book club.

This narrative non-fiction book chronicles the story of Abdul Zeitoun in the days before and weeks after Katrina. Zeitoun is a Syrian immigrant who ultimately settles in New Orleans, becomes an American citizen, and builds a successful painting/property ownership business.

As Katrina prepares to make landfall, Zeitoun's wife and children leave New Orleans but he stays behind. Following the storm, he paddles through his section of city in his canoe -- far away from the chaos and looting in downtown -- and manages to rescue several people who are trapped.

What happens next falls into the category of disbelief. He is arrested inside one of his own properties, though he isn't told why he is being arrested. In the chaos that is post-Katrina New Orleans, he's held in a make-shift jail for weeks, never being told why he was arrested, never allowed a phone call, and never given access to a lawyer. His family is sure he is dead.

Katrina is a dark stain on America's history. On the news we heard plenty about the lawless, roving gangs terrorizing the city after the storm. What we didn't hear is that some of those gangs were under the authority of our own government.

This book should be required reading for anyone interested how a lack of leadership can have far-reaching consequences.
Profile Image for Book Concierge.
2,817 reviews343 followers
July 8, 2019
EDITED, July 2019 - Multiple reports from residents of NOLA have pointed out that Abdul Zeitoun is a con man and felon. The veracity of much of Eggers' tale is in question ... probably because the Zeitouns gave him false information. I'm leaving my rating and review as it stands because of the qualify of Eggers' writing of the story. But to call it NONfiction is probably a stretch.


Book on CD performed by Firdous Bamji.

This is a true story of what happened to one family in Post-Katrina New Orleans.

Kathy and Abdulrahman Zeitoun own and operate a contracting firm specializing in remodeling and refurbishing homes. In August 2005 as Hurricane Katrina heads for New Orleans, Kathy flees the city with their four young children, eventually winding up with friends in Phoenix. Abdulrahman (commonly known by his last name, Zeitoun) remains behind to watch over their properties. After the storm he paddles around the city in his canoe, helping numerous elderly neighbors escape, checking on the properties of various friends and clients, and caring for neighborhood pets that have been left behind. There is a working phone in one of the properties he owns, and Zeitoun faithfully calls Kathy each day at noon. He also speaks with his brother and sisters in Europe.

Kathy and his siblings urge Zeitoun to leave. They are watching news reports that show increasing chaos and they fear for his safety. But Zeitoun assures them that he is nowhere near the looting, the stadium, or the convention center. He has food and water and shelter, and two friends. He is fine, and he is doing good helping others.

Then, on Sept 6 the phone calls abruptly stop. He has simply disappeared. The city has completely shut down; Kathy cannot call the police or fire department or FEMA or the National Guard for help. She can only wait for word. Days turn to weeks….

This is a fascinating and infuriating story. I was shocked, stunned, angry, heartbroken, dismayed and completely riveted by the tale. Eggers does a great job putting the reader into the setting – the peace and quiet of no electronics, the heat and humidity, the stench of rotting vegetation, and the unsettling sight of armed men patrolling (?) your once-peaceful neighborhood.

Firdous Bamji does a marvelous job narrating the audio book. He has good pacing and his performance enhances the reader’s impression of Zeitoun as a thoughtful, faithful man, an everyman’s hero. And the way he voices Kathy when she has finally had ENOUGH, and starts yelling at the Homeland Security people … well, I wanted to stand up and cheer!
Profile Image for Perry.
632 reviews533 followers
June 21, 2016
The Moral Ravages of Hurricane Katrina
The Dangers of Hatred and Bigotry

Dave Eggers tells the astonishing and sad story of how the basest of evil in the human condition tends to rise in times of turmoil. It struck me though how this 2009 book is just as relevant today, probably even moreso given the hate-filled rhetoric of one candidate for U.S. President who would have proposed that we not only lock up Mr. Zeitoun,* a Syrian-born New Orleans small business operator since 1988, and a naturalized citizen, based on his religion, where he was born and the pigment of his skin, as was actually done one week after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast (8/29/05), but also that the United States have deported him.

This story is also one of hope, survival and forgiveness.

*Zeitoun was caught in the flooded New Orleans in the week after Katrina and locked up a week after the hurricane.
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews609 followers
March 12, 2017
this is a MUST read book........

must, must, must!!!!!!!!!!

i had no idea innocent people were put in a man-made prison in new orleans during katrina. `shameful`...[unreal story which took place in our country:].

do not...`NOT` read this book.

the story of this married couple...'the `zeitoun's` is a story you'll never forget.

love elyse
Profile Image for Jeanette (Ms. Feisty).
2,179 reviews1,947 followers
April 30, 2010
Aaaaaaaarghhh!! I just can't take Dave Eggers. He has authorial ADD. Stay focused already, dude! Beats me why he's considered such a great writer. Oh well, no accounting for individual tastes, I guess.
147 reviews19 followers
August 3, 2013
so Zeitoun is a flagship work for Eggers' Voice of Witness, an organization that:
depicts human rights crises around the world through the stories of the men and women who experience them.

And in Zeitoun we get an intensely personal story cast as a morality play not only about Hurricane Katrina, but 9/11 to boot!

But what to make of a morality play where the protagonist attacks his wife with a tire iron and then gets arrested for three counts of attempted murder? Does oops cut it?

The world is a messy, complicated place, and when you try to shortcut that complexity things finds a way of biting you back. And as nice as it would be if the universe followed picture-book rules, where Big Ideas get expressed through outsized characters, wishing doesn't make it so. Uncertainty is the baseline. Understanding people or history means grappling with a messy thicket of conflicting incentives, interactions, and motivations.

17 universities have selected Zeitoun for campus reading programs. One can only imagine the pat conclusions and sweeping generalizations being drawn in discussion group after discussion group. Zeitoun's project - the notion that broad insight can be extracted via narratives drawn from samples with an N of 1 - is pretty much exactly the opposite of what I think you'd want to do if the goal was to introduce new college fresh-persons to a University intellectual community and the life of the mind.

Have them read the Times reporting on the Katrina hospitals and Pro Publica's coverage of the Danziger bridge shootings. Screen both Spike Lee documentaries on campus. Ask questions, build hypotheses. But as recent events in the Zeitoun universe illustrate in almost absurd fashion, don't presume that the essence of a story as complicated as Katrina can be encapsulated in any one person's experience.
Profile Image for Kasa Cotugno.
2,413 reviews493 followers
August 2, 2020
As a writer, Dave Eggers has the ability to find the small story within the larger one, as exemplified by his "Voice of Witness" series, out of which arose this book. But no one else could have written this book -- his extraordinary skill as a writer coupled with his deep seated humanity and puckish humor have woven a story of courage and loyalty and love far beyond any other I've read, save for his own "What is the What," my favorite book of 2006. His befriending of his subjects results in epic volumes, that have effects far beyond the selling of books -- Foundations in this case, a School in the case of WITW. I don't say this often, but everyone should read this book.

Dave Eggers is unique. He is also supernatural -- how can so many hats be worn on just one head? And when does he have the time to accomplish all he does? At what was supposed to only be a book signing for
"Zeitoun" recently, he gave an impromptu speech about the family at its core and the events they endured during the horror of Katrina, before and after the Storm. He was generous with his time and information, without giving too much away about the story. He never gave the impression he had somewhere else to be, but as it was a noon signing, seemed more concerned about the attendees' need to return to work.

Update: Somehow I missed the further history of the Zeitouns. In 2012 Abdulrahman and his wife Kathy divorced, he subsequently attacked her, did jail time during which he attempted to put out a contract on her life, and is currently living in America unable to be deported to Syria. It's a shocking conclusion to a story that was so inspiring at the time. Still, Kathy did say the book was an accurate representation of their marriage at the time, and when I saw them on the stage with Dave Eggers in 2010, there was no indication of the violence to come later.
Profile Image for Ava Cairns.
45 reviews18 followers
June 11, 2023
Great book but the true story of Zeitoun is very disturbing and disheartening
Profile Image for Jimmy.
512 reviews738 followers
September 17, 2013
A long time ago I had decided not to ever read anything by Dave Eggers. That was because he had written an atrocity of a book called 'A Hearbreaking Work of Staggering Genius'. It was self indulgent, self conscious posturing, using literary gimmicks in a way that I found wholly inauthentic. This was AGES ago, though, so don't ask me for specific complaints. I don't remember them.

Anyway, about a month ago, a friend was reading Zeitoun and finished it in about a day, then lent it to another friend who finished it in about the same time. They told me briefly about the book, and against my earlier decision, I borrowed the book. I put it in a pile of books to be read later.

That 'later' was yesterday. I started it and I couldn't stop. I've got to give it to Dave Eggers in that there was no Dave Eggers in here. The reason this book succeeded was that he was able to step aside and let Zeitoun and Kathy tell their stories, using the plainest style possible to convey the most heartbreaking, sickening, and devastating episodes.

I don't know how much of the story I should reveal... it's better that you just read the book. But I'll just say that it's based on true accounts of a family who survived hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, and then survived many other more unpredictable trials. The book as a whole--its before, during, and after of events described--perfectly encapsulates my love/hate relationship with this country.

I urge you to read this (and especially if you would never normally read Dave Eggers). If you give it 40 pages of your attention, I guarantee you will finish the whole thing in a day or 2.
Profile Image for Greg Brozeit.
464 reviews105 followers
August 31, 2017
This book belongs on that short shelf of essential classics such as All Quiet on the Western Front and Cry, the Beloved Country. The great tragedy of Zeitoun is that he suffered for doing what all of us would hope to do in similar circumstances--the best we can in times of crisis to help our neighbors. The sheer hell that Zeitoun, his family, and the countless, nameless people who suffered during the aftermath of Katrina went through is a modern parable we should all heed.

Despite the subsequent governmental neglect and abuse of the city and its citizens, human decency somehow still prevails despite horrific circumstances. Zeitoun will change and haunt anyone who reads the book. And hopefully it will remind people that the tragedy of the Katrina aftermath continues to this day. Dave Eggers tells a profound story that illuminates our national condition. We all should resolve to do something to make the city and its citizens whole again. Not to do so only compounds our national shame.

Unfortunately, the personal story of Zeitoun and his marriage have taken some terrible turns, but the book still remains powerful.

[Update: Perusing this great book as I watch the horror of Hurricane Harvey and its rains. Amazing how much history can repeat, especially when hubris, willful ignorance, and hate for the governing invades local, state, and federal public policy processes. But it also reveals character, both large and small. Will it produce literary classics like Zeitoun?]
Profile Image for Gary  the Bookworm.
130 reviews128 followers
November 25, 2014
I am not a fan of Dave Eggers. A Hologram for the King was the first novel I read by him and I found it dull and unconvincing. Then Zeitoun was chosen by my goodreads group, Read Between the Wines, as its nonfiction selection for November. I downed a bottle, or two, and staggered on board, thinking I'd give Eggers another chance with something that was based on truth. As my buzz diminished, I found myself swept back in time to that dreadful weekend in August, 2005 when the world watched in horror as New Orleans drowned, not once, but twice: first from the torrential rains of Katrina, then from the stunning ineptitude of FEMA, the federal emergency management agency. Meeting the Zeitoun family, sharing in their daily activities, caring about them as individuals and as symbols for struggling Muslims in post-9/11 America, made me re-evaluate my misgivings about Eggers and I fell hook, line and sinker for this harrowing and heroic tale of courage, community and kinship.

I felt as though I was drowing myself as the family reluctantly separated on the day before the hurricane hit. I was reassured as the evacuees landed safely in nearby Baton Rouge and fascinated as Zeitoun struggled with the exigencies of surviving the storm and its horrific aftermath. When he took to his canoe, to explore his ravaged city and to give assistance to his neighbors, I marveled at his composure and his competence. After his heartbreaking betrayal by FEMA, I was outraged and appalled. I silently applauded Eggers for his masterful storytelling, and as I wiped away my tears, I reactivated my long dormant pleasure of bashing George W. Bush for his long reign of error. I felt reassured that Zeitoun and his family had survived the worst and were once again thriving in a rebuilt New Orleans with their strong kindred bonds to sustain them. Then I googled Zeitoun. I advise you to do the same before you succumb to the charms of a snake oil salesman named Eggers. My only solace is that I can go back to hating him.
Snake Oil Salesman photo P1010078.jpg
Profile Image for Sally.
76 reviews34 followers
August 8, 2009
Zeitoun is a moving and eye-opening journalistic account of a much-loved and respected Syrian-born small business owner and resident of New Orleans in the days before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina. Eggers worked closely with Abdulrahman Zeitoun (known simply as "Zeitoun") and his American wife Kathy to faithfully represent Zeitoun's experiences when he remained in New Orleans to supervise his residential properties and business sites following the hurricane.

Some of the most emotionally rich scenes are those that describe milestones in Zeitoun's childhood and introduce American readers to his extended family in Syria. The opening passage describing the custom of night-time fishing for sardines in Jableh, a small Syrian coastal fishing town, is stunning.

Eggers creates and sustains suspense as he recounts earnest rescue missions alongside incompetent and brutal security maneuvers intent on maintaining order. This is the eye-opening part of the account that was seldomly portrayed in the media. A worthwhile, accessible book - perfect for high school students and older.

A bonus is that all author proceeds from the sale of the book will go to benefit a wide assortment of non-profit organizations involved in promoting human rights and the ongoing rebuilding of New Orleans.
Profile Image for Alex.
1,419 reviews4,490 followers
February 11, 2013
This is the third Eggers book I've read and they've all been really readable. I like reading them.

The others were Heartbreaking Work and What is the What, and all of them have been about things that are true.

Zeitoun is fuckin' horrifying. It's about a Syrian emigrant to the US who chooses to stay in New Orleans during Katrina due to reasons that make perfect sense. He's equipped to stay, he has properties to watch out for, he's resourceful: he's actually the right guy to stay. He's an asset to the post-Katrina mess. And then he's arrested for no reason and you really understand what it's like to be trapped in a broken system. It's eloquently put and solidly researched: this is what really happened, in our country, to one of our people who was helping. It's as powerful an attack on what can go wrong in a country you thought had its shit together as I've seen, and - I want to really emphasize this - it's absolutely true. Eggers checked his sources; there aren't any events in this book that didn't take place.

But Zeitoun the character turns out not to be Zeitoun now. And it's hard for me to deal with that. Was he not a violent man before? All my experience tells me that domestic abuse doesn't come from nowhere; this behavior probably existed before. (His ex-wife, Kathy, has given conflicting reports.) I could be wrong! Zeitoun's experience post-Katrina may have been so traumatic that it tilted him. I just...don't know.

Eggers as a writer has a slippery relationship with truth. Heartbreaking Work deals extensively with the difference between recollection and reality. What is the What is billed as a fictionalized autobiography; Eggers and Valentino Achak Deng collaborated on a version of the latter's life. And here with Zeitoun we have a story where all the facts are true, but the characters may be false.

I wonder whether he turned Zeitoun into his story, or whether the story changed Zeitoun. One way or another, this novel turns into a metafictional comment on the conflict between the story we write and the story we want told.

Eggers has set out to be a novelist who writes nonfiction. This story is great, but it got away from him. I'm not sure if that's okay.
Profile Image for Lee Klein .
812 reviews877 followers
August 22, 2011
Character-driven narrative non-fiction. Once the storm hits, it's consistently top notch, un-put-down-ably compelling and important. Not really just a book about Hurricane Katrina. It's more about how essential human virtues -- courage, endurance, hard work, tolerance, love for and reliance on family -- outweigh superficial religious and regional differences. How character's revealed under pressure. Extreme Bush-Era breakdown of rights we take for granted in the U.S -- there was some disbelief reading this, thinking it's like Camus's The Plague or Saramago's Blindness or Cormac's The Road, but it happpened in 2005, in the good ol' U.S.A, just a few years ago, in a city I visited in 2004 sometime . . . How can that be?

The writing seemed at first restrained, kept to a lower gear, aiming for maximum accessibility, but it really worked when the winds pick up. It's effortlessly spare and transparent, lets you see through the text to scenes so you can read in "real-time" as actions unfold. The author's storytelling/formal talents are the conduit for this family's story -- Eggers's presence is really only felt as the messenger, channeling this story about this unfairly tested family.

An easy (large-ish print, lots of white space on every page), well-executed, mostly foward flowing, moving, "enjoyable," meaningful read.
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