over the years, dave eggers has become one of my favourite authors to read. i first read his semi-autobiographical work, a heartbreaking work of staggering genius, almost a decade ago and have been avidly following him ever since. i loved what is the what immensely, both for the story it told and because all of eggers’ author royalties went directly into the valentino achak deng foundation to benefit south sudan. i have enjoyed following the work of 826 national, the non-profit writing centers around the united states that were co-founded by eggers. i have read many of the anthologies he has edited, and anytime i come across another of his books, i get excited about what might be contained within those pages.
and zeitoun was no different. the story of the zeitoun family was at times funny, fascinating, horrifying, and heartbreaking. a muslim family living in new orleans when hurricane katrina hit, the zeitouns found themselves caught up in two overlapping nightmares.
while his wife and family fled the city, abdulrahman zeitoun elected to remain in new orleans to look after their properties [the family owned a painting and contracting business as well as numerous rental properties throughout the city]. when the storm hit, causing significantly more damage than anyone anticipated, abdulrahman took to the streets in his secondhand canoe to see what help he could provide. he rescued a few people from their homes, alerted authorities to other people in need of rescue, and even took it upon himself to feed neighbourhood dogs who were left behind when families fled the storm.
and then, a week after the storm, tragedy struck, and abdulrahman found himself in a nightmare of a situation. stranded between assumptions based on his religion and fema’s abysmal response to the crisis in new orleans, abdulrahman and three of his friends found themselves the victims of a judicial system that was not operational and thrown into a system that was broken.
eggers first heard the story of the zeitoun family when an anecdote was published in voices from the storm, after which he contacted the family and asked if he could tell it in its entirety. the family agreed, and zeitoun is their recounting of the days leading up to the storm as well as the months that followed and how their lives were irrevocably changed.
as with what is the what, all the author royalties from zeitoun will go to the zeitoun foundation, established by the family after the storm and benefitting organizations that work to rebuild new orleans as well as human rights organizations that work to break down religious stereotypes.
as i read zeitoun and got caught up in the story of abdulrahman and his family, i was appalled at what i learned. i knew the government’s response to katrina was poor, but i don’t think i ever knew just how bad it was. i had just moved to bangalore for my internship with peace child when the storm hit, and although i followed the news coverage on cnn and other networks, i didn’t have access to online news sources the way i do today. i have heard stories in the years since to highlight the mistakes made on the part of fema and the department of homeland security, but until i read this book, i didn’t realize just how bad the situation was. and honestly, i never will know, because i didn’t have to live through it.
this was a great book about a remarkable man and his family, and one that i highly recommend others to read. it’s a fast read, and if not for my two weeks in bombay for work, i would have finished it much sooner. pick up a copy and read it.
my goodreads rating: 4 / 5 // average rating is 4.08.
crossing off the popsugar reading list: a book with a one-word title.
next up: just started jojo moyes’ the girl you left behind last night. sounds like a interesting read, so be on the lookout for a review in a few weeks!
have you read zeitoun or any of dave eggers’ other books? what are your thoughts?