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Zeitoun (Vintage)

October 25th, 2012

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Book Overview:

National Bestseller A New York Times Notable Book An O, The Oprah Magazine Terrific Read of the YearA Huffington Post Best Book of the Year A New Yorker Favorite Book of the Year A Chicago Tribune Favorite Nonfiction Book of the Year A Kansas City Star Best Book of the Year A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year An Entertainment Weekly Best Book of the Decade The true story of one family, caught between America’s two biggest policy disasters: the war on terror and the response to Hurricane Katrina. Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun run a house-painting business in New Orleans. In August of 2005, as Hurricane Katrina approaches, Kathy evacuates with their four young children, leaving Zeitoun to watch over the business. In the days following the storm he travels the city by canoe, feeding abandoned animals and helping elderly neighbors. Then, on September 6th, police officers armed with M-16s arrest Zeitoun in his home. Told with eloquence and compassion, Zeitoun is a riveting account of one family’s unthinkable struggle with forces beyond wind and water.

Book Review

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out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 12796 user reviews
History Books National Bestseller A New York Times Notable Book An O, The Oprah Magazine Terrific Read of the YearA Huffington Post Best Book of the Year A New Yorker Favorite Book of the Year A Chicago Tribune Favorite Nonfiction Book of the Year A Kansas City Star Best Book of the Year A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year An Entertainment Weekly Best Book of the Decade The true story of one family, caught between America’s two biggest policy disasters: the war on terror and the response to Hurricane Katrina. Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun run a house-painting business in New Orleans. In August of 2005, as Hurricane Katrina approaches, Kathy evacuates with their four young children, leaving Zeitoun to watch over the business. In the days following the storm he travels the city by canoe, feeding abandoned animals and helping elderly neighbors. Then, on September 6th, police officers armed with M-16s arrest Zeitoun in his home. Told with eloquence and compassion, Zeitoun is a riveting account of one family’s unthinkable struggle with forces beyond wind and water.

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  1. David Henderson
    October 26th, 2012 at 17:19 | #1


    “Zeitoun” is an inspiring, tragic and powerful book that will endure decades from now about how America failed at helping New Orleans and the residents of the city during and after Hurricane Katrina. In a nonjudgmental and factual manner, the book recounts failed expectations and lack of accountability by FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security in response to the devastation brought to the city by Katrina.

    Author Dave Eggers, one of the important storytellers of our time, chronicles the true story of one man – Abdulrahman Zeitoun – a prosperous Syrian-American and father of four who chose to stay through the storm to protect his house and contracting business.

    Zeitoun risks his own life daily by paddling through the city in a canoe in his attempt to save lives and help provide food and water to others, only to endure shameful, unjust and unaccountable torture at the hands of police and the military. The lasting harm done to Zeitoun, his American wife Kathy and their children continues even today, four years after the storm.

    Eggers documents that Homeland Security, FEMA and the military sent troops to New Orleans not necessarily to assist in rescues but rather because of an unfounded and paranoid belief that terrorists might take advantage of the hurricane situation to cause further disruption. In the perverted and racist government process, Zeitoun is viewed not as a savior of the city but as the enemy.

    While I suspect that the story of Zeitoun will further enhance Dave Eggers’ well-deserved destiny as a meaningful voice in American nonfiction writing, I am most struck by the fact that all proceeds and royalties are going to the not-for-profit Zeitoun Foundation in New Orleans.


  2. exBFF
    October 27th, 2012 at 05:20 | #2


    I know I’m going to get slammed for this, so I’ve waited a few days (since finishing the book) to see if my reaction would soften…it hasn’t. I can appreciate all of the accolades, but to me it felt like a first draft. The bones of a great book are there, but Eggers lost points (in my book) for style and plotting. I completely understand – and appreciate – a less is more style…but this story begged for nuance.

    Eggers’ clumsy use of plotting was, frankly, surprising considering his enormous talent. He might as well have held up a sign that said “this, right here, is foreshadowing” or “this is another heroic quality of our protagonist.” It was that heavy-handed.

    Where it really succeeds is in telling a story that brings new light to the Katrina tragedy.

  3. K. Elzer-peters
    October 29th, 2012 at 18:14 | #3


    I had never read anything by Dave Eggers before, but his reputation set some pretty high expectations. I am a fan of narrative non-fiction and non-fiction, and enjoy books like “In Thin Air” or “The Colony.” I picked up the book yesterday, and finished it this morning. It was spectacular.

    The writing style is perfect. It is not over the top with descriptions, but still makes you feel as if you are there, canoeing along in the streets of New Orleans. The subject matter is interesting, not just in a “can’t stop watching this train wreck” sort of way, but because it ties together Hurricane Katrina and 9/11, two of the largest national events of the last decade. I never thought or knew about much beyond what I saw on TV regarding Katrina. This book thoroughly explores one story of one family, but manages tell it from a perspective that everyone can understand.

    Much like the book Three Cups of Tea brought attention to the plight of women in Pakistan, I hope that Zeitoun will bring to light the problems and issues that still need attention in the US and in New Orleans.

    Eggers took the main event, Katrina, and by telling the Zietouns’ story, made it of human scale.

    I’m rambling–all I can say is, I think this book is worth a read for everyone. It isn’t preachy-it is interesting. I learned a lot about many different subjects. I hope it ends up on the best seller list and stays there for a long time. Unlike some books that end up on the best seller lists, this one really deserves to be there.

  4. LawGirlSF
    October 30th, 2012 at 12:42 | #4


    I don’t know much about Katrina and only a bit about its aftermath. This book was a wake-up call. I admit I picked up the book because of its Arabic title, and was intrigued to see Egger’s name as the author. As an Arab-American, I have to say, Egger captured the nuances of Arabs in America seamlessly. I felt at home with Abdulrahman and Kathy- many of my relatives, including myself, have married non-Arabs. I read Abdulrahman’s account of paddling around New Orleans in awe and wonder. Then, the arrest. I am enraged and angry over his treatment, not only as an Arab, but as an attorney. I am disheartened to see the America I loved so much as a child sink to such a dark, unfair place. This is an important and indispensable piece of nonfiction that I hope is widely read.

  5. TallTaleReader
    October 31st, 2012 at 13:38 | #5


    Disclaimer: I am a big Dave Eggers. I don’t think he is infallible, but I’m a fan.

    I found this work of non-fiction to be riveting, honest, and gripping. When Katrina hit New Orleans, I was studying abroad, traveling through Italy and seeing the hurricane’s aftermath called “Bush’s Folly” on a number of Italian newspapers and periodicals. Zeitoun and Kathy’s story is tragic and heart-wrenching, while proving, ultimately, hopeful.

    To think of what the Zeitoun family, and countless other residents of the New Orleans area, went through in 2005 and in the months following is unfathomable. But Dave Eggers has written a frank, quite readable retelling of what happened a few short years ago.

    I admire Eggers for his 826 literacy programs and social awareness, among other things, and for his commitment to help get the Zeitouns’ story out there, so as to put a unique face to natural disaster of Katrina, and to the human disaster and American failures that followed, and in many ways continue to the present day.

  6. Alfonse Tomato
    November 1st, 2012 at 08:23 | #6


    Zeitoun is a creampuff to read and then there is a huge lump in your stomach where the content boils. I finished it in a couple of days, finishing on a cross-country plane flight and got off in a furious mood that didn’t wear off until the end of a hot bath and a tall cold rum drink. Massive injustice has been done in New Orleans and this book follows it right down to the foundations. You won’t read another word about Katrina without finding your thoughts completely reoriented. Let’s hear it for the truth.

  7. Jabiz Raisdana
    November 1st, 2012 at 18:56 | #7


    It is 2:48pm and I have been reading since about 7 am. Just last night I sent a friend an email stating that the new Dave Eggers book was off to a slow start. One sitting and 337 pages later, I think it is safe to say it picks up steam.

    I am a sucker for demarcating unique and carefully crafted prose in the books I read. Highlighter in hand, I scour books for passages that may somehow be of use to me at later times, and Eggers has always been provided me with page after page of highlight worthy prose, but his latest book Zeitoun is different. I read all day and nary a page was marked.

    In Zeitoun, Eggers subtly removes himself from the story. The language is concise, crisp, journalistic, and inconspicuous. There is little emotion, embellishment, or superfluities of any kind. Instead he unfolds an economic, yet beautifully told story of the failures of the US government in the wake of Hurricane Katrina through the experience of one family.

    This book will not wow you with its complexity, but rather it will engross you with its simplicity. While the book lacks expressive prose, the experiences it narrates will have you shaking your head in disbelief.

    A timeless story of loss, anger, and hope. Dave Eggers proves once again that as a writer he is merely a voice of the voiceless. I am glad to see, once again, that anything he touches turns to gold.

  8. Smokey Cormier
    November 2nd, 2012 at 14:18 | #8


    I struggle all the time with “must” when it comes to giving advice to other people. Who am I to tell you what to do? Will you forgive me this one time? Because if you do, you will learn some important things by reading this book.

    You MUST read Zeitoun. Especially if you live in one of those areas — like I do — that can be struck by a natural disaster. Most of us do now, don’t you think? With global warming, there are more fierce hurricanes, more tornados. And just the other day I looked at an old National Geographic magazine’s map of where earthquake areas are in the world — there’s a lot of them! And I live in the San Francisco Bay Area … so we think about them all the time — that is, when we’re not in a state of denial.

    You better hope hope hope and pray (if so inclined) that you are never in a natural disaster of huge proportions like the poor folks in New Orleans were! The natural disaster parts are bad enough … but what is far worse is the army of “helpers” who come in later: National Guard, FEMA, law enforcement from other areas. That’s when the real tragedy will happen. These people don’t know you. They’ve been told to watch for looters. And like one of the quotes says in the front matter of this important book: To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Every person looks like a looter. Or a terrorist if you’ve got a Middle Eastern-sounding name.

    That’s what happened to Abdulrahman Zeitoun. At the time of Katrina, he was (and still is) a citizen and successful businessman in New Orleans. Think of it: you’re well-known by your community and a successful businessman — yet, after Katrina, you are thought of as a looter and terrorist. Without any proof. No evidence whatsoever. No hearing for weeks. No phone call. The phone call. It’s that special part of the U.S. judicial system: the phone call. We’re taught about this all the time as children: if you’re arrested, you get a phone call. The worst serial killer gets a phone call.

    Don’t count on it after a disaster. In a disaster with our friends from FEMA in control you become one of the Disappeared — and yes, they are the ones in control — and now that they are a part of Homeland Security they have even more control and an even worse attitude — to an employee from FEMA, everyone looks like a looter and a terrorist.

    And what about you, woman in your 70s — do you really think your safe? Read about the tale of Merlene Maten. She was 73 and a diabetic. She and her husband had fled their home before the hurricane and checked into a downtown hotel thinking they would be safer there. After three days, Maten went down to their car in the parking lot next door to get some food they had in the car. She was arrested for looting. It made no sense! Yet she was arrested anyway. Folks, this is what is so striking when you read this book: the “helpers” — law enforcement, National Guards or whatever — do not listen to you if you are just regular folks. Remember, you’re a nobody. They don’t listen to your story … they don’t look at the real facts: you’re 73 and diabetic and you’re at *your* car getting food. They don’t take the time to see if you really are checked into that hotel next door. They just arrest you.

    You better hope hope hope and pray that a disaster doesn’t head your way.

    I want to thank Dave Eggers for writing this book — and for all the important things he does with his abundant energy. Good stuff. Thanks. From deep down. I hadn’t read any of his books before, glad I started with this one.

    The writing is so very good too. The book is a page-turner. It’s not depressing at all. The book has a main story — the story about the Zeitouns — plus lots of other very interesting stories. Although watch out! If you were mad about how folks in New Orleans were treated before — WATCH OUT — you’re gonna be furious by the time you finish this book.

  9. Miguel Garcia-Guzman
    November 4th, 2012 at 00:51 | #9


    This is a book that tells the story of Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun, a wonderful family living in New Orleans, during the happenings of hurricane Katrina. Even when the book is not fiction, it reads like a novel.

    I personally expected more. I purchased this book expecting that it would blend the real story of the Zeitoun family with factual research about the catastrophe of hurricane Katrina and New Orleans. The book is 90% about the story and 10% about the facts of hurricane Katrina, so I finished the book feeling that my curiosity about this event is very much unfilled. In ways I also feel that referring to the tragedy of Katrina by using the story of only one family may be quite limited as it can’t provide a broad perspective of what happened before, during and after the hurricane. In this context, I learned that the publishing company and the non-profit organization that was funded by the author (Dave Eggers) also published a book that was the initial inspiration of Zeitoun – Voices from the Storm: The People of New Orleans on Hurricane Katrina and Its Aftermath -. This book shares interviews with several people that lived in New Orleans during Katrina and probably it provides a broader perspective of that event as it shares views from different people rather than a single story.

    This book is then most about the story of the Zeitoun family. Although their story is interesting and dramatic in many ways, I felt that the book moves too slowly in some parts, becoming repetitive on aspects that are not that significant for the story. In ways I felt that this story is right for an assay at the New Yorker, but too weak for a full book. Besides this criticism I have to say that the book reads well, and the story will be difficult to forget and that overall it was an nice reading experience. So if you are a non-fiction reader who likes books that describe in-depth research while combining real stories and you like to learn about Katrina, this book will leave you unsatisfied. If you read novels and like simple stories about people, you will enjoy the book.

  10. John L. Borden
    November 4th, 2012 at 06:43 | #10


    Dave Eggers’ account of Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun and their children during Hurricane Katrina is a document of our times as well as of a disaster. Eggers’ accomplished unadorned writing style gives the reader the freedom to think, and as the book develops that freedom evolves into a powerful and troubling experience.

    As the storm approaches Eggers weaves present circumstances with personal history, the story of a Syrian immigrant and a Baton Rouge working class woman marrying, raising a family, and building a successful home repair business in New Orleans. The day to day is familiar, the climb up the ladder to middle class is engaging, and the personal histories are fascinating.

    The story then follows the arrival of the storm, the decisions that need to be made, and the departure of Kathy and the children while Abdulrahman stays behind to take care of their home and rental properties. This sets the table for a tale, a highly researched and documented true one, that is just as much about the precipice this country is on as it is about a personal nightmare in the immediate aftermath of Katrina’s landfall. The mosaic of primal cruelty, evil competence, bureaucratic indifference, and the accompanying complicity of those with even the smallest amount of power manifests itself in a way that this reader could even conceive of as the same mind-set of 1930′s Germany. That’s a strong statement but, as I said, Eggers gave me the freedom to think.

    “The country that he had left thirty years ago had been a realistic place. There were political realities there that precluded blind faith, that discouraged one from thinking that everything, always, would work out freely and equitably. But he had come to believe such things in the United States. Things had worked out. Difficulties had been overcome. He had worked hard and achieved success. The machinery of government functioned… But now nothing worked… This country was not unique. This country was fallible. Mistakes were being made.”

    “Zeitoun”, pages 272-273

  11. M. Feldman
    November 7th, 2012 at 07:18 | #11


    Dave Eggers’s account of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, the first story in “Zeitoun,” is immensely readable. However, there has been a lot of well-written reportage on the storm and the Bush administration’s botched handling of the rescue efforts. What’s extraordinary about “Zeitoun” is the second, intersecting story, Eggers’s narrative of the arrest and imprisonment—without charge, without representation, without even the ability to make a phone call–of Abdulrahman Zeitoun, Syrian immigrant, successful businessman, and American citizen. Incredibly, in “Zeitoun,” the War on Terror merges with the Katrina disaster to produce a truly stunning example of what happens to xenophobia in the hands of petty officialdom. I’ve read several novels in which writers as diverse as Andres Dubus II, Claire Messud, and, most recently, Lorrie Moore, attempt to incorporate the events of September 11, 2001. None of these writers is, to my mind, particularly convincing with this material. (Don DeLillo, in “Falling Man,” comes closest, I think.) Eggers, on the other hand, a master of narrative nonfiction, simply (artfully) gets out of the way of his material, letting it speak for itself. And his depiction of the weeks after the storm, a period when Zeitoun’s wife, Kathy, at first does not know whether he is dead or alive and then struggles with callous officials to free her unjustly detained husband, is powerful indeed. So too is the narrative thread that traces Zeitoun’s family history. Most painful and revolting, however, are the scenes in the jail-cages of “Camp Greyhound,” the temporary prison constructed outside the New Orleans bus station. As with the photos of Abu Ghraib, the emotion a reading of “Zeitoun” is mostly likely to evoke is shame.

  12. K. L. Cotugno
    November 7th, 2012 at 17:13 | #12


    As a writer, Dave Eggers has the ability to find the small story within the larger one, as exemplified by his “Voice of Witness” series, out of which arose this book. But no one else could have written this book — his extraordinary skill as a writer coupled with his deep seated humanity and puckish humor have woven a story of courage and loyalty and love far beyond any other I’ve read, save for his own “What is the What,” my favorite book of 2006. His befriending of his subjects results in epic volumes, that have effects far beyond the selling of books — Foundations in this case, a School in the case of WITW. I don’t say this often, but everyone should read this book.

    Dave Eggers is unique. He is also supernatural — how can so many hats be worn on just one head? And when does he have the time to accomplish all he does? At what was supposed to only be a book signing for

    “Zeitoun” recently, he gave an impromptu speech about the family at its core and the events they endured during the horror of Katrina, before and after the Storm. He was generous with his time and information, without giving too much away about the story. He never gave the impression he had somewhere else to be, but as it was a noon signing, seemed more concerned about the attendees’ need to return to work.

  13. William Meehan
    November 8th, 2012 at 04:01 | #13


    With the recent controversy over the Ground Zero Mosque, it is crucial that teachers incorporate literature into the curriculum that highlights the fact the Muslim religion is not equated with terrorism; terrorism is not a religion.

    Eggers successfully documents the trauma of the Zeitoun family following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. The novel is based on a series of in depth interviews of the Zeitoun family, friends, and relatives, as well as, other central figures who share Zeitoun’s fate. About two thirds of the book is spent focusing on the bond between Zeitoun and his family, which extends to his community at large; a community that Zeitoun, even after Katrina, finds value in, from the disabled to the able-bodied, to the animals left behind. It is within this post-Katrina community, however, that Zeitoun is falsely accused, tortured, and degraded by the U.S. government because he is thought to be associated with terrorist activity. Although Zeitoun’s imprisonment is one of the defining characteristics of the book, Eggers also touches upon what it means to be a Muslim woman in America today. Through Kathy, Zeitoun’s wife who is an American woman that converted because she felt the religion gave her power and control over her own life, we learn that the hijab, which is often seen as a sign of suppression by a patriarchal culture, actually becomes one of liberation.

    It is within the pages of Eggers narrative that educators will find the opportunity to teach students how to embrace and understand other cultures beyond what is reported by media outlets. By not including this book in our curriculum, or a work that confronts the same issue, we are doing our students a disservice, which will eventually become extensions of further ignorance and intolerance. Making students aware of how 9/11 has changed what it means to be American will only foster the knowledge of real situations, situations like Zeitouns that forever altered a man and his family; a situation that forever altered Americans.

    An interesting aspect about this book is the title because Zeitoun represents the man, the family, as well as, the extended network of friends and relatives of Zeitoun’s (the man) around the world. It may be an interesting aspect to bring up in class discussion after reading the book.

    This book also contains a comprehensive list resources on rebuilding New Orleans, support for, and education about the Muslim community. Utilizing these sources in the classroom would be excellent an way to get students involved in the reality of the text they have just read.

  14. Darryl R. Morris
    November 9th, 2012 at 12:59 | #14


    This is a true story of a remarkable man, Abdulrahman Zeitoun, who emigrated to the United States from Syria, and appears to have achieved the American dream of prosperity through hard work and determination. He works for a number of contractors, and eventually becomes a successful owner of a house painting company and numerous housing properties in New Orleans. He is happily married to an attractive American woman who has converted to Islam, and they have three wonderful daughters.

    In 2005, Hurricane Katrina begins its slow, meandering course westward over the Atlantic Ocean and Florida, and appears to be no different than the dozen or so major storms that make landfall in the southern US. As the storm gains strength, it also appears to be headed directly for New Orleans, a city whose average elevation is one to two feet below sea level.

    For decades it was well known that a major hurricane could cause failure of the city’s levees, which keep the city from filling with water from Lake Pontchartrain to the north and the Mississippi River to the south, but local and government officials largely ignored this doomsday scenario, as it had not occurred since the city was founded in the early 18th century.

    Despite his wife’s pleas to evacuate, as the weather forecasters predict that Katrina will take direct aim at the city at a maximum Category 5 intensity, Zeitoun desires to remain in the city, in order to protect his home and properties. As his wife and daughters evacuate to nearby Baton Rouge, Zeitoun rides out the storm, which initially seems to be a wise decision, as he is able to save most of the valuables in his house. However, the levees do fail two days later, and he is forced to live on and outside the second floor of their home. With nothing else to do, he uses his used canoe to check on his properties, and in the process rescues several elderly neighbors who are trapped in their homes. A couple of friends who are flooded out of their homes move in with him, and all appears to be going well for him, despite the reports of looting and lawlessness throughout the embattled city. He decides to stay in the city to help other residents, who have been neglected by the National Guard and federal officials, as he believes that God has called upon him to do this. Soon, though, the relative tranquility is shattered by an unforeseeable event that threatens to erase everything he has worked so hard to achieve.

    Zeitoun is a captivating page turner that, in the story of one man and his family, describes the spectacular failure of local, state and federal officials to protect victims of Hurricane Katrina, and the government’s brutal and immoral treatment of innocent Americans of Middle Eastern descent after 9/11. Even though it is nearly 350 pages in length, it is a quick read, and I could not put it down after I resumed reading it this afternoon. Highly recommended.

  15. B. K. Davis
    November 9th, 2012 at 18:14 | #15


    First off, Zeitoun painted my house about 8 years ago so maybe I’m a little bit biased. I also think Dave Eggers is a great writer (doubly biased, perhaps). This story needs to be told to a large audience and Mr. Eggers is just the person to tell it. Maybe we can knock Eggers for the simplistic style he chose to write this book. On the other hand, this story frankly didn’t need much artistic enhancement. It is shocking on its own accord and told in a very straightforward manner. Appropriate for the material, I believe.

    Every American NEEDS to read this book. What we find in it is an America that lost its core. It is truly shocking that no matter how bad things were in New Orleans immediately following Katrina (most reporting was inaccurate and sensationalized), we are still Americans with common beliefs in our system of rights. That these rights were tossed out the window is appalling.

    Mr. Zeitoun is a kind and gentle man. His signs are ubiquitous in New Orleans and he is a stranger to no one and well liked by all who have met him. That he could be mistreated is a crime and an outrage. That others were rounded up and treated even worse is one of the worst black eyes on our country. As I read this book I just kept saying out loud over and over again, “This cannot be America.”

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