It’s doesn’t seem that long ago that I read the glowing reviews of David Egger’s book, Zeitoun – a unique take on the catastrophe that overtook the Crescent City following Hurricane Katrina. It was a book I needed to read! Well, three years have slipped by since then and despite the excellent HBO produced Treme, which revived memories of a city battered by the forces of nature and betrayed by President Bush, Zeitoun slipped into the recesses of my memory.
However, a week a go, I spotted a copy of the book in a shop window after recognising it’s distinctive cover. I forked out the dosh and started reading the same night. I was hooked from the off. This is a true story of Muslim family in New Orleans, a family that was well known in the community through their hard working painting and decorating set up whose company logo was a paint roller resting at the end of a rainbow.
Zeitoun, after whom the book is named, hails from a sea faring family in Syria. His wife, Kathy, is an American convert to Islam and between them they have four kids. Their story is told by David Eggers, a progressive force in the firmament of contemporary US writers, and he crafts a deeply touching picture of what befalls Zeitoun and Kathy as Katrina approaches and then devastates the city.
While Kathy takes the kids and leaves, Zeitoun stays to look after their properties. In the canoe that he’s seen paddling on the cover of the book he takes to the flooded streets of the city helping where he can, whether fellow city dwellers or abandoned animals, and gradually believes it was God’ s will that he made that choice to stay.
Inevitably, the tension between Zeitoun – who is at sea in a disaster zone patrolled by a jumpy National Guard, US Army veterans of the Iraq war and a racist local police force – and his family – who are living the life of refugees – intensifies. And when it all spins out of control, the reader is drawn into an America that is deeply flawed.
David Eggers gave all the author’s proceeds from this book to various charities related to the issues thrown into sharp relief by his own story telling and the realities that threatened to destroy Zeitoun and his family. In light of that I can most definitely recommend that you seek out this book. It is grounded, powerful, emotional, polemical and above all still totally relevant.