David Quinn's Reviews > Zeitoun

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
Rate this book
Clear rating

's review
Jan 02, 2016

did not like it
Read from June 07 to 15, 2011

** spoiler alert ** I despised this book and my review contains spoilers.

(Posted August 10, 2012) Dave Eggers must do the general public a favor and retract his bogus and biased account of the Zeitoun family and their alleged trials after Hurricane Katrina. I’ve now learned Mr. Zeitoun has been accused of attempting to hire someone to kill his ex-wife Kathy Zeitoun (she’s painfully annoying but undeserving of the terrible treatment he’s heaped on her). Here’s the latest account:


The article also states: "In interviews this week, Kathy Zeitoun said the book is a faithful chronicle of that time.”

Bu!!$hit! Stay away from this book. The story wasn’t credible when it was published and in light of the latest news it’s downright pathetic.

(Posted August 8, 2012) There are so many reasons to hate this book and now, thanks to astute friend John Daugherty who alerted me to this latest incident, there's another. Mr. Zeitoun just happens to beat up women. I stand by my original review (below) of this book and would only add that while it appeared from the book that Mr. Zeitoun is a fine man he is in fact a piece of garbage.

Here's the article John sent to me:

Abdulrahman Zeitoun, the protagonist of Dave Eggers’s 2009 nonfiction bestseller Zeitoun, appeared in a New Orleans district court yesterday following his second arrest on charges of assaulting his now ex-wife in the past year.

The most recent arrest occurred on July 25, when Mr. Zeitoun allegedly struck Kathy Zeitoun with his fists and a tire iron and attempted to choke her outside of a lawyer’s office in Uptown New Orleans. At the time he was on probation for attacking Ms. Zeitoun in front of their children in March 2011, a charge to which he pleaded guilty last summer and was subsequently sentences to anger-management classes.

Magistrate Judge Gerard Hansen decided yesterday not to revoke Mr. Zeitoun’s probation in light of the new arrest. Mr. Zeitoun is currently being held on $150,000 bail. After the hearing, Ms. Zeitoun showed reporters photographs of bruises and scrapes, claiming that her ex-husband “tried to kill her,” and asserting that she believes he should be held without bail.

“I’m not going to be quiet about it anymore because being quiet puts him in a position to do it again,” Ms. Zeitoun told Greater New Orleans of her ex-husband’s violence. The couple was divorced earlier this year.

Mr. Eggers’s book chronicles Mr. Zeitoun’s wrongful arrest following Hurricane Katrina, when he was allegedly mistaken for a terrorist and detained at Elayn Hunt Correctional Center for over 20 days without ever standing trial.

We have reached out to McSweeney’s, the publisher of Zeitoun, for comment and as of writing this have not heard back.

Original review (posted June 15, 2011):

This book is a combination hagiography of Abdulrahman Zeitoun and heavy handed agenda against President George W. Bush's war on terror. While I'm not opposed to hagiographies or agendas I am opposed to a lack of balance and authorial laziness.

Mr. Zeitoun comes across as a fine man, a man I would love to have as a neighbor. He's modest, kind, practical, hard working, reliable and principled. He employs immigrants from all over the globe, pays them well and pays them on time. When he learned his company's rainbow logo was also a symbol of the gay community he decided to keep it despite the possibility that it may cost him some business (the author neglects to mention the possibility that it may earn him business as well, but that's a small point). So what is Mr. Zeitoun's biggest (and possibly only) flaw? Well, the author seems to suggest that from Mr. Bush's perspective it's that he's a devout muslim from Syria. Others have suggested hubris in his decision to remain in New Orleans during and after the hurricane. I would say that he's not circumspect. He thought there'd be no consequences to remaining in the city after a mandatory evacuation was ordered? Mr. Zeitoun stayed behind first and foremost to mind his business properties. He provided some assistance in the days following the hurricane but that wasn't his purpose for staying. He ultimately believed (or at least claims he believed) that God put him there for a specific purpose. (The book is full of stories of the role of the sea (both tragic and glorious, of course) in the story of the Zeitoun family in Syria which are included to provide dramatic tension. WIll Zeitoun be destroyed by the sea or will he emerge victorious? I don't know. He winds up in jail (not prison) on the bogus charge of looting (in his own property). The real reason? Why he's a middle eastern muslim of course. I can't say what happened to any of the middle eastern christians, the author is silent on their plight. The strange thing is that he spends far less time in jail than the two (white?) americans and fellow middle eastern muslim he was with when he was arrested. There's some vague talk about terrorism (he meets with an agent from Immigration and Customs Enforcement who was shockingly polite and courteous to Zeitoun) but he's never charged with looting, terrorism or operating a canoe without a proper license. On the downside the police/prison guards are pretty mean (if you can count to ten without using your fingers you would have easily been able to see that coming). So they beat him to within an inch of his life and they mock his religious beliefs? No, they're just not very pleasant and they offer him ham sandwiches every now and then. I guess the food service was somewhat limited in a flooded city after a category 5 hurricane, go figure. So there's proof positive the law enforcement personnel were xenophobes. And what of the crippling pain Zeitoun felt in his side while jailed? The one the prison personnel refused to look at? It went away. So much for that drama. I had a feeling that was going to happen too.

So clearly Mr. Zeitoun was the worst part of this book, right? Not by a long shot. Kathy Zeitoun (his wife) is easily the most irritating and unlikeable book subject to come along since Judith Souweine from Tracy Kidder's book House. If Judith was the teacher and Kathy was the student not since Thomas Aquinas and Albertus Magnus has the student so thoroughly surpassed the teacher. To suggest Kathy has no redeeming value is unfair. She's spunky. Actually I didn't care for her spunk. What I also didn't care for was her seeming insecurity, combativeness, moments of hysteria and drama and the sense I got that she's a perpetual victim. Unfortunately Kathy is one of the author's main witnesses and towards the end of the book we learn that she has significant bouts with memory loss and moments of utter confusion. She may be battling post-traumatic stress syndrome but amazingly she has yet to decide on a strategy to manage it. (Mr. & Mrs. Zeitoun have filed a civil lawsuit against the city, the state, the prisons, the police department, and a half-dozen other agencies and individuals (essentially anyone in America who walks upright). But they had no intention of suing anyone over Zeitoun's arrest. No, it was their family and friends that fanned their outrage and convinced them that those responsible needed to be held accountable. Unbelievable. If the Zeitouns were living in Syria in June 2011 I wonder how they'd feel about the political and human rights climate there. Add a category 5 hurricane and flooding to the mix and see what they think of that situation. Before I leave the subject of the lawsuit I have to confess that I'm a bit confused as to how Mr. Zeitoun in good conscience could be a party to such a lawsuit when he attributes his trials to God's will.) And what of Kathy? After all of this stress when she eats any small thing (a PIECE of pasta!) her stomach will swell to DOUBLE its original size. (I did not make that up.) Is that hyperbole, literary license, a typo or simply ridiculous?

I have so much more griping to do (I have many more notes) but it's forcing me to relive this awful book so I'm going to curtail my complaints.

Okay, just one more to the author: In America they color gray is spelled with an a not an e. It doesn't make you seem more intelligent when you write it as grey. I would gladly let that go if this book wasn't so irritating on so many levels.

If you're looking for a good book about government injustice I'd like to recommend Tulia by Nate Blakeslee, Down by the River by Charles Bowden, Praying for Sheetrock by Melissa Fay Greene, The Weight of a Mustard Seed by Wendell Steavenson or In the Name of the Father by Gerry Conlon.
13 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Zeitoun.
Sign In »

Comments (showing 1-13 of 13) (13 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Todd (new)

Todd Wright How do you really feel, don't hold back.

David Quinn I actually did hold back.

message 3: by Erin (new)

Erin Loved your review!

David Quinn Erin wrote: "Loved your review!"

Thanks. It was almost as long as the book.

Frederick Gault Because the man is flawed and the author fawned over him in no way justifies his maltreatment. Any one of us can be accused, it is only the quality of our justice that saves us. Would you be satisfied to be treated as Z was? Even a wife beater gets a phone call to his lawyer upon arrest.

David Quinn Thanks for your thoughts.

Clint Thanks for this review. I kinda wish I hadn't read it though. I liked living with the delusion that there really are honest good hearted people out there. :/ I don't think the book deserves crap for it though. It's not the authors fault. He wrote the book before all of this happened and according to Kathy, before he started changing. The author is even supporting Kathy through it all.

David Quinn Sorry I spoiled it for you. The book just hit a raw nerve for me, which was pretty obvious from my original review. I learned of Mr. Z’s troubles much later and updated my review as I learned the information. I hope there won’t be any more updates, it’s time for me to move on.

I want to enjoy every book I read and I choose books I think I’ll like. My track record (for me) is okay and I’m hoping to do better.

David Quinn I did quote her accurately and I don’t think the follow up sentence adds anything; it’s merely an attempt to salvage credibility.

With regard to the book I still believe it’s completely unreliable because it’s based on the accounts of someone who claims to have suffered severe memory loss. Sorry, but the events described in the book just aren’t credible to me.

You liked the book and I despised it. I don’t think debating the issue will be very productive. And I’m not interested in whatever theories you have about his mental state.

Kelsey Just out of curiosity, did you ever read the author's note on process and methodology? If you have this much trouble with books that deal with politically charged subjects, you should probably start there in the future.

message 11: by David (new) - rated it 1 star

David Quinn I did read the notes and still hate the book.

If you have this much trouble with people who hate books you love you should probably just let it go and not try to teach them a lesson. But if that’s too difficult for you feel free to look over the books I’ve read and read the reviews of the ones with politically charged subjects and see if there are any other lessons you’d like to teach to me.

Just out of curiosity, oh, forget it.

Kelsey I didn't mean to offend, and admittedly I didn't look over what I had posted until now. I can see where you took offense, and I do apologize for the tone it took.

I had looked over your books, and noticed that you were a huge aficionado of nonfiction. There's a huge difference between a story told purely "through the eyes of either Abdulrahman or Kathy Zeitoun, so the view of the events reflects their recollections" and an actual timeline/analysis of the events. Since you begin by accusing Dave Eggers of authorial laziness, and pushing a "heavy handed agenda against President George W. Bush's war on terror", I thought it was an important distinction to point out.

I believe that understanding the sources of information are integral to understanding and parsing the writing at hand. I honestly don't mind your critique of a book that I admittedly enjoyed, but I'd rather focus on actual issues (heavy handed sea metaphors! Kathy's memory loss casting a shadow of doubt over the story!) rather than a perceived political agenda.

message 13: by David (new) - rated it 1 star

David Quinn Fair enough, apology accepted. Sorry for my snippy reply. I really did read the notes and stand by my review, although it’s admittedly too scattershot and fraught with harshness. I should have followed the ‘wait 24 hour’ rule to post a review. The hatred would still have been there but it would have been more nuanced.

I do strictly read nonfiction these days and I want to love every book I read but as you can see from my use of every numerical rating it doesn’t always work out that way. (And no surprise but my 1 and 2 star reviews are my liveliest.)

Your profile is closed so I couldn’t compare books. Do we have any book ratings in common?

Best wishes and happy reading.

back to top