Thursday, February 14, 2013


In 2005, as a hurricane named "Katrina" was making its way to New Orleans, the Zeitouns were a little concerned.  They had weathered many hurricanes, and had found that most of the time the storms were not as bad as they were predicted to be.  Kathy and Abdulrahman owned a business and several properties in New Orleans.  Abdulrahman, who everyone called by his last name, Zeitoun, wanted to stay behind so that he could keep an eye on his properties and make sure that everything was OK.  His intention in remaining in the city to watch the properties was not to guard them  and shoot intruders, but just to repair roof holes and minimize damage.  Kathy took the kids, and headed inland.

Katrina hit, and while it was bad, the damage to the Zeitouns' home was minimal.  But then, after the water had receded, it returned.  Zeitoun quickly realized that there was a breach in the levy system, and that the water wouldn't be going anywhere any time soon.  Luckily, he had a canoe, which allowed him to paddle through his neighborhood, and help those who needed it.

The people of New Orleans were told to evacuate, but many did not.  Soon after the storm, the military, police officers from other cities, national guard soldiers, and people working for private security firms, like Blackwater, flocked to the city, to help.  Zeitoun was happy to see the help arrive, but learned that their perception of what they were there to do was far from what the city needed.  The soldiers and others had been fed stories of looting and chaos in New Orleans, and came in treating it like a war zone, rather than a city where elderly residents still needed rescue.

The conflict between Zeitoun and the security forces is central to this true story, Zeitoun by Dave Eggers.  What happened in the days following the hurricane, and how the residents of the city were treated is unbelievable.  The fear mongering and the reports of widespread crime, mixed with heavily armed outsiders, created the "wild west" atmosphere that the media blamed on the storm and the residents.  Everyone in New Orleans in the days following the storm was presumed guilty.  People were arrested while standing in their own homes, for looting those same homes.  All logic was suspended.

Eggers spent a lot of time discussing the Zeitouns' Muslim religion.  I wondered why he was concentrating on this aspect of their lives so much.  After the storm, that became clear.  In the atmosphere of fear, the security forces believed that Al Qaeda could be staging an attack through splinter cells.  It seems crazy now, that anyone would think that any terrorist cell would deliberately act in a swamped city with no electricity or running water, but at the time it was apparently a concern.  A Muslim in New Orleans after the storm raised a lot of suspicion.

There was so much that I learned about the aftermath of Katrina from Zeitoun.  I will mention a couple of the more troubling aspects on my spoilers page.  But really, don't read the spoilers if you are going to read the book.  Not knowing what was going to happen next was what made Zeitoun so intense.  Zeitoun was a NYT Notable Book for 2009.

If I were Dave Eggers, I would have told the story differently.  Eggers makes no apologies for making Zeitoun one family's story.  But at times, when we were hearing about Zeitoun's family in Syria, or Kathy's sibling squabbles, it felt like filler.  I would have told Zeitoun's story, but also mixed in the story of an older couple that stayed in the city and needed to be rescued, and of a police officer or national guard soldier from another state who came in to help.  This would have rounded out the story with different perspectives, but still could have reached the same conclusions.

That's one more down for the Off the Shelf Challenge.  10 more to go.  And, by the way, this is my 200th post on this blog.  Thanks for reading!

Next Up On CD:  I'm not sure.  I'm not going to have much chance to listen in the next week, so I'll put off that decision for now.

Still Reading:  Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles by Ron Currie, Jr.


  1. Love your idea for the Off The Shelf Challenge (and I love this book, too!). Definitely need to consider doing that soon.

  2. Thanks! It's not too late to join the off the shelf challenge for this year. Here is the link:


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...