Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun are residents of New Orleans, with Kathy’s son from first marriage Zachary, and Nademah, Aisha, Safiya and Ahmad. The Zeitoun runs a Painting and contractor company. A hardworking and honest man, his typical day begin with getting the kids ready to school and picking up phone calls from workers and customers who need job done to their properties.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Kathy Zeitoun are forced to bundle up the children and dog and drive to her sister’s home for cover. As Katrina is upgraded to grade 5 as it moves along to the coast of New Orleans, Abdulrahman is steadfast in staying behind to bring all their belongings up to the attic as 10 feet tall flood is expected. I imagine the excavations of New Orleans’ residents to be something like from the scenes from apocalyptic Hollywood movies.
As the residents are cast into unthinkable struggle with forces beyond wind and water. Good Samaritan Abdulrahman has stayed on in the city, traversing its deeply flooded streets by canoe, feeding trapped dogs and rescuing survivors as New Orleans becomes a disaster zone. Looting, shooting, raping incidents are rampant, and Kathy feared for Abdulrahman’s life. They kept in touch with each other everyday through Abdulrahman’s tenant’s phone line which is still working. Until one day, Abdulrahman did not call and nothing could prepare both Kathy and him for the wholly unexpected nightmare that follows….
There are two quotes that opens the book:
…..in the history of the world it might even be that there was more punishment than crime…- Cormac McCarthy, The Road
To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. – Mark Twain
That would have give us a glimmer of what happened to Abdulrahman, but I won’t spoil it. Between narrating the daily grind of Zeitoun, Egger offers a glimpse into the Zeitoun’s past, Zeitoun’s ancestry and family in Syria, his brother Mohammad the great swimmer, how Zeitoun grew up with the sea, how Kathy grew up in a big family, how they met each other, which adds dimension to the Zeitoun’s plight.
Credit goes to Eggers as he built the tension of Hurricane Katrina moving towards the city, and anxious throughout the rescue mission and then send us reeling with rage and anger as injustice is inflicted on Zeitoun. The books serves as a damning indictment of governmental and judicial failing in the wake of Katrina, e.g. the lack of immediate help, the need for news coverage precedes helping another human being, the innocence were condemned; and also an indictment of personal and familial failings, the rejection to provide shelter in the midst of crisis, the prejudice of family members. There is no heartbreaking pirouette of flowery prose, Egger simply lets the tragic facts speaks for themselves. By the end of it I was so infuriated for the injustice that happened that I had to take a breather.
Zeitoun is simply happy to be free and in his city. It’s the place of his dreams, the place where his children were born, where he was married, where he was given the trust of his neighbours.
It was a test, Zeitoun thinks. We were tested, yes. But every person is stronger now. Every building will be stronger now. He sees the homes being restored, brick by brick and block by block, and his mind vaults into glorious reverie – he pictures the city not just as it was, but far better. It can be. If he can picture it, it can be. This has been the pattern of his life: ludicrous dreams followed by hours and days and years of work and then a reality surpassing the wildest hopes and expectations. So why should this be any different?
There is much work to do, and we all know what needs to be done. So let us get up early and stay late and get that work done.
I finished the book in one sitting. Engaging and full of suspense, it is a poignant and memorable memoir. One that ended with hope. Highly recommended.
There is no paper flap on the book cover. The cover is embossed with silvery strip of what looks like the ripples of flood, it shimmers and it’s beautiful.
Hardback. Publisher: Hamish Hamilton, imprint of Penguin books 2010; Length: 339 pages; Setting: 2005 before and after math of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans. Source: Library Loot. Finished reading at: 1 May 2010.
About the Writer:
Dave Eggers is the author of a Heartbreaking work for staggering Genius, You Shall Know Our Velocity, How We Are Hungry, What is the What and The Wild Things. In 2004 he started Voice of Witness, a series of books that use oral history illuminate human rights crises around the world. Both the Arab Cultural and Community Center and The Council on American-Islamic Relations have honoured Dave Eggers with awards that officially recognised Zeitoun’s help in transforming perceptions of Muslims and Arabs in America.
The Zeitoun Foundation
All author’s proceeds from this book go to the Zeitoun Foundation, founded in 2009 by the Zeitoun family, the author, and Mc Sweeney’s. Its purpose is to aid in the rebuilding of New Orleans and to promote respect for human rights in the United States and around the world. The Zeitoun Foundation will serve as a grantor of funds generated from this book and channelled to several non-profit organisations listed in the back of the book.