Year 2 / Book 11: Zeitoun

11) Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

I don’t really know where to start when talking about this book. For reasons that I hope become clear. The simple facts are that it is a non-fiction book by Dave Eggers (one of my favourite authors) on what happens to a family both pre- and post- Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. It focuses particularly on the central couple Kathy and Abdulrahman Zeitoun, their backgrounds, and the life they had built together.

It’s difficult to talk about the plot in any way without giving away or ruining what happens, but suffice to say that Abdulrahman stays in New Orleans while Kathy and their children evacuate. He then saves both animals and people with his canoe (long story) before he is arrested (unfairly) and the story subsequently spirals into a difficult-to-believe and difficult-to-read tale…which manages to be both about the suspicion of Islam, the shocking power of the military-police complex (or the Blackwater-Department of Homeland Security complex), the malfunctioning of the US justice system, the plain lack of humanity of officials and the occasional bright light in the gloom. And be a true story set in a ‘developed’ country in the 21st century.

It is brilliantly written, simply and sparely…and is hugely involving. Even minor characters are brought to life effortlessly. And there are some profoundly shocking details of what happened in New Orleans at that time that I had absolutely no idea about. And, to add to everything, all proceeds from the book go to the Zeitoun Foundation which gives grants to local projects in the city seeking to build cultural relationships, help those still suffering in relation to housing many years on, and to restore people’s lives.

It was such an engaging tale that I had to look up what had happened since online. And what had happened since was that the couple had separated and Abdulrahman had been imprisoned in relation to threats of violence. For me, this doesn’t take away from the story at the book’s heart, but indicates that what happened to him had had profound effects, amplifying whatever anger and frustration he already felt or exhibited. Which is speculative, of course: others think Eggers chose to ‘spin’ them as a happy robust couple and avoided uncomfortable truths. Either way, what glimmers of light there may have been at the end of the book have since been extinguished in more darkness.

Score: 8.5/10

BUY IT HERE! Zeitoun

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