Eggers, Dave. Zeitoun. McSweeney’s, 2009. ISBN 978-1934781630 342 pp. $24.00
Hardworking Syrian immigrant Abdulrahman Zeitoun is a devout Muslim who has raised himself up by his bootstraps to own his own successful handyman business, which has slowly evolved to not only a solid client base but owning multiple properties in New Orleans. When Hurricane Katrina hits, his wife Kathy reluctantly heads out of town with the kids but Zeitoun remains behind, shoring up windows and tying down ladders for customers, friends and neighbors. Soon, it’s impossible to leave the city, and he moves the valuables up a floor or two. A canoe comes in handy when the levees break and his neighborhood is flooded
In the aftermath, he maintains a noon phone date with his wife, who is afraid for his life as she hears about looting, mayhem, death and property damage on the news. Zeitoun feeds abandoned animals and tries to help those who need it, but no good deed goes unpunished. He is eventually detained and arrested by out of town law enforcement and thrown into a makeshift jail on unfounded charges of terrorism, and can’t seem to get answers, or a doctor (he hurts his foot pretty badly) let alone a phone call, a lawyer, or a trial.
This was an unputdownable book: the drama of the storm, the amazing stories of generosity coupled with brutality, the tension of whether Zeitoun would survive his ordeal… it was riveting. Eggers admirably manages to tell this horrific story of racial profiling without getting angry, and provides extensive acknowledgements, but not source notes, at the end. Zeitoun is a fascinating look at an untold piece of the more-than-natural disaster of Katrina.