Zeitoun: At the Crossroads of Horror & Hope in New Orleans
Have you ever watched a movie that you hadn’t heard much about, and it turned out to be a real gem? Or eaten at a new restaurant, only to have it become one of your favorites? Zeitoun was just that sort of experience; a little book that I picked up, because I needed something to read. I hadn’t heard anything about it, wasn’t familiar with the characters, but when I put it down, after savoring the last page, I knew this story would never leave my heart or conscience again.
Zeitoun is a nonfiction account written by Dave Eggers, who also wrote What Is the What. The story is about Abdulrahman Zeitoun, the owner of a well respected painting and contracting company in New Orleans. Zeitoun is of Syrian descent, married to a local woman, has three children and New Orleans has been his home for twenty years. When Hurricane Katrina hits, he chooses to stay behind, anticipating nothing more than a weekend of heavy rain and winds. In this he was mistaken. After the storm, he commandeers his secondhand canoe, and paddled throughout the flooded streets, rescuing neighbors, feeding abandoned dogs and distributing bottled water.
If the story ended here, Hollywood would scoop it up and liven the movie screens with a feel-good tale about the triumph of human spirit. Instead, it takes a dramatic turn, which includes Zeitoun’s imprisonment and torture, the systematic destruction of his life and liberty, the dismal failure of governmental response to Hurricane Katrina, FEMA and so much more.
More horrifying is that this story is not Zeitoun’s alone; it is the story of hundreds, even thousands, of people who were arrested and stowed away in the modern day concentration camp, known as Camp Greyhound, with unspeakable human atrocities being perpetrated on them.
Anyone reading this book has to ask; How can this happen in America?
There are many books, some undeserved, that take their place on the bestseller lists. Zeitoun is one book, that truly deserves to be there, now and for many years in the future. This is `hands-down’ one of the best books I have read, and although I am not left with that feel-good story that Hollywood is so famous for creating; I am still left feeling oddly hopeful. Hopeful that Zeitoun’s story, puts a human face to the monumental catastrophe that is Hurricane Katrina; that Eggers expert storytelling reorients the truth as we have heard it, and that ultimately, we come to realize that the more learn, the less we really know.