Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

This is the best book I have read so far this year.

Eggers relates the true story of the Zeitoun (
Zay-Toon) family and asserts that "dates, times, locations and other facts have been confirmed by independent sources and historical record". Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a Syrian Muslim living in New Orleans with his wife, Kathy and four children, is an well-known business man who owns a painting/contractor business. He's a hard worker and a family man. When it was announced that Katrina was headed straight for New Orleans and the governor declared an evacuation, Kathy and the children headed to Baton Rouge and Zeitoun stayed home, prepared to fix anything in the house as needed.

The family didn't expect such a catastrophe - I don't think many people did. After the hurricane passed Zeitoun used an old canoe he bought and searched for those in need of help; animals and people alike. Since many people who evacuated the city thought they were only going to be gone a day or two, there were a lot of pets left behind. Little did they know they wouldn't return for weeks. "It was one of the strangest aspects of this in-between time - after the storm but before anyone had returned to the city - the presence of these thousands of left-behind animals." Zeitoun believed that he had stayed in the city for a reason and did all he could to help anyone who needed it.

He set out alone for a while and before long, at the corner of Canal and Scott, he encountered a small boat. It was a military craft, with three men aboard: a soldier, a man with a video camera, and one holding a microphone and a notebook. They waved Zeitoun down and on of the men identified himself as a reporter. "What are you doing?" the reporter asked. "Just checking on friends' houses, trying to help," Zeitoun said. "Who are you working with?" the reporter asked. "Anybody," Zeitoun said. "I work with anybody."
Not only does this book detail the horrible Katrina catastrophe, it also examines what it means to be a Muslim in America in the 21st century. For me, this book was a shocking reminder of what many of our citizens have to face simply because of their religion. It provides a behind-the-scenes look at the horrific behavior of the NOPD, FEMA, the National Guard, and the US government. With the five year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina this week, this book really hit home. If you are interested in learning more about the disaster and the racial profiling that occurred as a result, I suggest you read this book. It's told in a very straightforward way and was all at once touching, heartbreaking and disturbing.
He was so content in this country, so impressed with and loving of its opportunities, but why then, sometimes, did Americans fall short of their best selves?
If I could recommend everyone in America read one book this year, Zeitoun would be it.

Publisher: Vintage Books, 2009


  1. David Eggers is one of those writers who I always think I should check out someday. I always group him with David Sedaris in my mind, probably because of their first names and propensity for writing memoirs and essays, though I know Eggers writes fiction as well. I really like what he's doing with the 826 Valencia project and literacy programs. Have you read, and would you recommend, "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" and/or "What is the What?"

  2. Isaac, I read "What is the What" a few years ago, before I started blogging. Like Zeitoun it's a touching story but it isn't told is such a straightforward way. It ends up seeming like a really long book that I think he could have condensed 100 pages shorter. All in all though, I think it's worth the read. I've yet to read his memoir "A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius". From other reviews, I've read it comes across as self-indulgent so I may wait a little while to read it, but I hope to get around to it sooner rather than later.

  3. I almost picked this one up at the book store recently. Glad u LOVE it!

  4. Bibliophile, Awesome! Let me know what you think about it.

  5. High praise!!! It sounds fabulous and I'm glad you loved it :)

  6. I thought it was fantastic, but I worried that I liked it so much because NO, like Houston where I live, is a hurricane spot. Glad to know that others found this to be an amazing book, too.

  7. I was so happy to read your first sentence in this review. I loved this book also. Eggers is a fantastic creative non-fiction writer. "A Heartbreaking Work" is also wonderful.

  8. Laura, I'm happy to hear that! This really is a great book. I've been passing it along to people to read. So far I've gotten 3 people! Also, I picked up A Heartingbreaking Work a few weeks ago and look forward to starting it.