Jo Bennie's Reviews > Zeitoun

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
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May 14, 12

Read in May, 2012

Abdulrahman Zeitoun and his family are Syrian Americans living in New Orleans, he and his wife Kathy (a converted Southern Baptist American) run a painting and decorating business and let a number of properties across the city. There is some discrimination but Abdulrahman, known as Zeitoun because of people's inability to pronounce his first name, is well respected for his insistence on a high level of workmanship by all his crews, and he has a strong healthy business. The couple have four beloved children and life is good.

When Hurricane Katrina comes in from the Gulf Zeitoun doesn't think much of it, many hurricanes have formed over the years only to peter out on land. Kathy is worried though and takes the children to stay with her family, but Zeitoun stays to watch over their properties and those of their friends who have left. Katrina itself is not too bad, but then the levees break. Zeitoun moves the family's belongings upstairs and as the waters rise sets out in his canoe to offer help where he can. Kathy and Zeitoun's extended family are worried, but he is far from the looting of the city centre and the hellish conditions in the Superdome. He links up with friends who have also stayed behind, feeds the local stranded dogs and keeps in contact with his family by a phone that still works in one of the local apartments.

Zeitoun is just beginning to think about leaving, food is running out and there isn't much more he can do. He has just come off the phone to his brother and is about to call his wife when there is a loud knocking at the door and a story of survival through hurricane rapidly turns into a nightmare, a unforgivable one in which Zeitoun's ethnicity is the tenuous reasoning behind his horrendous treatment by a city under martial law, in a country which is supposed to honour and revere civil liberties.

A brave and deeply moving book, well written and dedicated. It changed my view of Islam, showing that beyond every radical in every religion there are a raft of kind hearted people attempting to follow the benevolent teachings of their creed, and who face terrible and unthinking discrimination.
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