Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Book Review: Zeitoun by Dave Eggers


Author: Dave Eggers
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Date of Publication: June 15, 2010
Pages: 325 (Trade Paperback)

"The whole place was anarchy."

     This book makes me furious.  It makes me mad at prejudice and profiling, chaos and circumstance; mad at policy and ignorance.  It makes me mad at people who do their job without thought of humanity or reason and yes, mad at God.  I'm even mad that not everyone in this country has read this book and been as outraged as I am.  I'm mad.

   Zeitoun should be required reading for every bureaucrat and politician and anyone else who may have a hand in shaping policy for disaster response and recovery.  This should be required reading for every police chief, National Guard and military officer who may participate in disaster relief.  It should be read by every American, especially those bellicose politicians and civil libertarians who pride themselves on being protectors of our freedoms.

    This book is the true story of Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun.  Abdulrahman (or "Zeitoun" as he is called) was born in Syria, worked for years at sea and settled in the United States.  He is a naturalized citizen who met his American wife at a mosque in New Orleans.  Kathy converted from being a Southern Baptist before meeting Zeitoun.  Together they built a family and a successful painting and contracting business.  The story unfolds as Hurricane Katrina approaches and then devastates the Gulf Coast.  Kathy and the children flee while Zeitoun stays behind to protect his business and properties.  The author uses flash backs of Zeitoun's childhood and family in Syria as well as his experiences as a naturalized American citizen to create a tremendously sympathetic character.  

   The book follow the humble and God-fearing Zeitoun as he tries to do the right thing by his neighbors and fellow citizens.  What transpires is the most remarkably outrageous transgression of human rights imaginable.  In the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!  In 2005!!!  My God, there are passages here that read like they are taking place in Nazi Germany or Stalin's Soviet Union.  Where was I when this was happening?  Where was anybody that cares about human beings for that matter?  Zeitoun is not an indictment of Republicans or Democrats, Muslims or Christians, blacks, whites or Syrians.  It is an indictment of human nature, the abrogation of responsibility and the lack of human-ness in the face of disaster.  Zeitoun has been compared to Kafka's The Trial, but it actually reminded me more of a modern day Book of Job, except Zeitoun has more resilience than Job.  The most amazing part of this story is that despite events which would have destroyed the strongest of individuals, Abdulrahman never loses hope and never loses faith in his God.  Zeitoun is a truly remarkable man.

    Truman Capote is generally credited for inventing the genre of "creative non-fiction" with the phenomenal In Cold Blood.  Dave Eggers has taken this genre to a whole new level with this monumental work.  Read this book.  Be as mad as I am.


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