#295 ~ Zeitoun

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

Published by: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

Published on: June 2009

Page Count: 368

Genre: Non-Fiction

My Reading Format: Audiobook rented from my local library

Narrator: Firdous Bamji

Audiobook Length: 10 hours, 28 minutes

Available Formats: Hardcover, paperback, eBook, audiobook

Summary from the Publisher

When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a prosperous Syrian-American and father of four, chose to stay through the storm to protect his house and contracting business. In the days after the storm, he traveled the flooded streets in a secondhand canoe, passing on supplies and helping those he could. A week later, on September 6, 2005, Zeitoun abruptly disappeared. Eggers’s riveting nonfiction book, three years in the making, explores Zeitoun’s roots in Syria, his marriage to Kathy — an American who converted to Islam — and their children, and the surreal atmosphere (in New Orleans and the United States generally) in which what happened to Abdulrahman Zeitoun was possible. Like What Is the What, Zeitoun was written in close collaboration with its subjects and involved vast research — in this case, in the United States, Spain, and Syria.

My Review

I have a confession to make. The only reason I ever considered let alone read Zeitoun was because of the title. During the last Bloggiesta I realized that I’ve written a book with titles beginning with every letter of the alphabet with the exception of Z. On several occasions I put out feelers on Twitter for novels with titles meeting that one single requirement. Consistently people suggested Zeitoun. Still, I searched various book sites looking for even a half-way decent novel that fit. I found nothing.

It’s not that I’m not against reading non-fiction. Columbine is a book I can’t stop raving about. No, it was the idea of reading about the hardship and injustice surrounding hurricane Katrina that did not appeal to me in the least. Eventually, knowing that there was an empty Z out there on my library page began to outweigh my hesitancy. That my local library had an audiobook copy of it right out in the open on the very day that I finished On Beauty with nothing else at my disposal sealed it. I had at least 30 more minutes of drive time and I figured if nothing else, I can DNF it and then blog about why. What I found was that this coincidence was kismet. Before I stopped listening on that first drive I was kicking myself for not reading it sooner.

Throughout this book, a quote attributed to Benjamin Franklin kept coming to mind:

They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

When we allow fear to rule our lives, in times of disaster or no, there really can be no safety. Zeitoun and his experiences while staying behind when his family evacuated New Orleans is a testament to that.

Dave Eggers did a wonderful job bringing Zeitoun, Kathy, and pre/post-Katrina New Orleans to life. While reading the book I felt like the Zeitoun family were close friends, I was at all times fully engrossed in their story. When Zeitoun went missing, I felt like I was losing a brother or an uncle. He also did a great job of discussing the significant issues that arose with law enforcement and FEMA after the hurricane without using a hindsight is 20/20 attitude about it. Anyone can armchair quarterback the next day, the next month, or the next year. This was really one of my biggest concerns about picking up this book. I do not like to get preached to in my reading. There was none of that in Zeitoun.

One of the things I most appreciated about Zeitoun was the story surrounding Kathy’s conversion to Islam. Without stories like hers, it’s difficult to understand what might draw a person to that faith. It really was beautiful the way that she changed her life. Not only did she handle all of the communication and billing issues for the couple’s business, she was strong willed in other aspects of her life. While no one would want to deal with what she did, I felt that she handled each and every hurdle like no one else I know. She is someone I’d love to meet someday.

Zeitoun was narrated by Firdous Bamji. He is an actor by trade and a pleasant narrator. That he could easily pronounce the Syrian names and places really enhanced my reading. Had I not listened to this book, I think they would have been a stumbling block. I’m not even sure I would have pronounced Zeitoun the way he did without hearing it first.

If you are like me, and don’t like to read books that might be politically charge, I urge you to give Zeitoun a chance. It is an important book just as Columbine is. In order to learn from the past and never let it be repeated, you have to understand exactly went on in the first place. If you’re not like me but have just not yet picked it up, what are you waiting for? If you live in New Orleans and need work done on your house, I’d suggest you contact Zeitoun. You’ll be glad you did.

Other Voices

You know what I think, why not check out what other bloggers have to say?

Care’s Online Book Club
Erin Reads
Books and Other Stuff


  • At 2010.12.06 15:08, Melissa said:

    I’m so glad you liked this one, even if it’s not your normal genre. I wasn’t sure what to expect and I just loved it.

    • At 2010.12.06 15:32, Short Story Slore said:

      I have passed this book many times, but your review is making me put it on my list. Maybe even as an audiobook since I know I’ll struggle with pronunciation.

      • At 2010.12.06 15:46, Jennifer said:

        Please do! You won’t regret it. The audio is great. Maybe ypur library will have it.

        • At 2010.12.06 20:37, bermudaonion (Kathy) said:

          I’ve only read one of Eggers’ books – A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius – but I loved his writing style, so I’d be willing to give this one a chance.

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          • At 2010.12.07 08:58, Sandy said:

            I just made a comment on Jenner’s blog on this book. When I was book shopping in Chicago, the owner of a bookstore talked me OUT of this one and into getting What Is The What instead. Even though EW rated this the top Non Fiction book of the year it came out, many bloggers and readers have not liked it. If I recall, they didn’t like the prose. I like the idea of the audio. I’m going to see if my library has it.

            • At 2010.12.07 12:43, Martha said:

              I don’t know if I would have heard of this book without your review and it sounds incredible. I will definitely be adding this to my list.

              • At 2010.12.07 16:24, Jen - Devourer of Books said:

                You have me even more excited to read this than I was already! I’m glad that I put it on my challenge list.

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                • At 2010.12.11 23:47, Lisa said:

                  I’m including this one on the list of memoirs/bios for my book club to consider for the coming year. We read one a year and this one sounds like it would make for great discussion.

                  • At 2010.12.12 08:59, Jennifer said:

                    It would make a great book club suggestion. There would be a lot to discuss. I hope your group selects it.

                    • At 2011.01.25 10:02, Aimée said:

                      How I loved this book. But I would like to know what people thought of the narrator’s dropping “s’s” at the end of many sentences. When he first called the city “New Orlean,” I thought maybe that was how a Syrian would pronounce it. Then I became more and more annoyed at his talking about things like needing tables and “chair” or talking with the “guard.” (I am making these up because I can’t remember exactly the sentences, but you get the gist.) Am I being too picky?

                      • At 2011.01.25 10:06, Jennifer said:

                        I never noticed the way the narrator dropped the s sounds. Had I noticed it, it probably would have irritated me, too. This makes me want to check it back out of the library and pay attention to it.

                        Thanks for stopping by and letting me know!

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                          • […] Literate Housewife – “While reading the book I felt like the Zeitoun family were close friends, I was at all times fully engrossed in their story.” […]

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