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Open Book Club > Zeitoun by Dave Eggers - Jan. 8th @ 6PM

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Open Books Store (openbookstore) | 26 comments Mod
A compelling book when it was first released. Join us on Jan. 8th at 6PM in the store to discuss the recent news about the book's subject and discuss how your opinions may have changed!

message 2: by [deleted user] (new)

Upon re-reading this book, I am finding myself surprised at how much of the first section of the book is dedicated to describing and developing Kathy in the reader's eyes.

I find myself focusing on Eggers' treatment of Kathy much more closely now that I have the hindsight of the spousal abuse knowledge that was covered in the media last year. I also find myself critically reading the depictions of Zeitoun with this same knowledge in mind.

I remember being enthralled by the later parts of the book upon my first read - probably because that is where the story delivers upon the depiction and subject of the title - but this second reading is giving me an even more complete understanding and interpretation of the story being told while not being able to separate the book from my newfound knowledge.

in a way, this second reading is proving to be more powerful than the first time around and the challenge of accepting that someone who commits something awful can also be capable of profound kindness and bravery is at the forefront of every word.

message 3: by Anne (new) - added it

Anne | 7 comments I see you're having an interesting debate about this book on another thread, too, in which you said (Kevin) that you wonder if Eggers missed something about how the storm changed Zeitoun's character, given the fact that Kathy had said at the time that the book was an accurate portrayal of their relationship. I'd like to counter that with the following paragraph from an article in Salon (

"Ms. Zeitoun claimed in one interview that Eggers’s depiction was accurate at the time, but that her husband had subsequently become angrier and more violent, and his Islamic views more radical. Yet Ms. Zeitoun has a financial stake in Eggers’s creation through the Zeitoun Foundation. “All author proceeds from this book go to the Zeitoun Foundation,” reads the beginning of a clearly stated note at the end of Zeitoun, which is followed by a list of nonprofit organizations that will also receive the proceeds. Ms. Zeitoun has since testified in court that she suffered abuse from the beginning of their marriage in 1994, up until the storm, and afterward."

I think it's really important to remember that women in abusive relationships live in daily fear of retaliation from their abusive partners, so Kathy had more than just a financial stake in claiming the glowing, heroic portrait of her husband in the book was accurate.

That said, I'm really glad all of this has finally come out and she feels she can speak freely of what she endured. As you know, I couldn't make it through this book (I got almost exactly halfway through) and I realize now that the reason it "raised my hackles" (in dejamo's excellent words) was because the character of Zeitoun rang false for me. As he's portrayed in the book, he felt like the hero of a children's fairy tale -- the boy whose brother died young and instilled in him a drive to succeed, the young man who caught the foreman's attention with his selfless dedication and hard work, the successful businessman who treats his employees perfectly and never had a bad word to say about anyone, the husband who never raises his voice to his wife and stoically sends her out of the city before the storm but remains behind to protect their home. None of it felt authentic to real life.

To Eggers' credit, Kathy feels like a fully developed, real human being throughout the book, struggling with emotions like anger, frustration, fear and anxiety. She is a woman with insecurities, imperfections and instincts, and she is not always presented as a perfect person.

In describing the first time she met Zeitoun, Eggers writes, "After [Zeitoun] left that night, Kathy told Yuko that he was a nice enough man but that she didn't think it would be a good match." I imagine those words come back to haunt her now as she fears for her life if a judge were to let her husband out of jail.

The Salon article goes on to say, "When [Eggers] finished chapters, he’d send them to the Zeitouns for accuracy, and they went over the manuscript “six or seven” times, leading one to ponder: If you had editorial privilege over your own story, would you whitewash?"

It feels to me like Kathy allowed for more honesty about herself and her feelings and reactions, and that Zeitoun demanded a heroic personification that we now know was always very far from reality.

To me, this whitewashing of imperfections is an even more egregious affront in a book about New Orleans, as the thing I love best about New Orleans is that in my experience people there interact very honestly and authentically. They do not shy away from difficult emotions or try to gloss over tough times. They celebrate all the myriad experiences that make up life, and honor sadness and anger and despair as much as joy and excitement.

I hope that someday Kathy is able to tell the story of her true experiences and emotions, without her husband's editorial oversight.

message 4: by [deleted user] (last edited Jan 07, 2013 01:37PM) (new)


I'm glad you focus your discussion on Kathy and give Eggers credit where credit is due (upon my re-reading, I was struck even more by how fully developed and integral to the story Eggers made her). I too hope she can tell the true story.

The reason I wondered about Eggers missing something about the aftermath regarding Zeitoun is because he spends a lot of time at the end of the book describing the changes in Kathy, but focuses only on the resilience of Zeitoun's work ethic and faith. For me, that is the most seemingly whitewashed section of the book. Something I didn't pick up on when I first read it (and a major reason why I have reduced my rating of the book).

The Salon article is interesting and raises some very valid points, but unfortunately, Victoria Patterson infuses the article with obvious bias and manipulation by spending so much time on the Mailer/Gilmore/Abbott comparison without questioning Mailer's own character. To me, an apparent tactic to set Eggers up for a public flogging. Just because one popular writer is compared to another, doesn't mean they are inherently similar or that they possess the same intent. Mailer was no saint. Eggers isn't either, but I'm pretty certain Mailer is less of one (Maybe even less of one than Zeitoun... didn't Mailer stab *his* wife once upon a time?)

The most powerful literary/journalistic indictment against Eggers in that article is where it points out Eggers' mistake about Gilmore's paramour's "daughters," but that gets lost in the article when she carries on with Abbot and doesn't really make any parallel to the issue at hand. Mailer outwardly showed no remorse about the Abbott case. Eggers hasn't commented at all yet... to my knowledge.

I would love to hear Eggers' side of the story now that all this has come to light. Eggers has always been a very divisive author when it comes to readers' interpretation of him. I agree he is often too precious, which might be why I prefer his attempts at nonfiction to his fiction. The struggle to present reality and/or reality-as-perceived comes through brilliantly in the prose. It's as if we are viewing a writer's process as well as the finished product all at once.

As for the experience of New Orleans (a place that has been repeatedly mythologized throughout history... before and after Katrina), for every authentic and honest interaction I've had there, I've had just as many interactions with conmen and hucksters who make diversion and immersion into fantasy the way they make a living...above and below the books. I can't fault a writer on their interpretation of a place that has so many different ways to interpret it laid so bare and brazen on its surface.

message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

Thanks so much for coming out to book club this evening, everyone. I really enjoyed the discussion. Feel free to use this thread to follow up on anything we discussed or share thoughts that might have popped into your mind after the meeting!

Also, please don't be shy... if you want to start other discussions in the other folders about other books or topics, feel free!

message 6: by Anne (new) - added it

Anne | 7 comments Oh, totally agree about the Norman Mailer comparisons. Unnecessary, irrelevant and misleading. I also would like to hear Eggers' version of the aftermath of this story as it has unfolded -- I am unsure whether to view him as a victim of Zeitoun's con or a willing participant in it.

dejamo | 8 comments Thank you for hosting us, Kevin. I really enjoyed the discussion too. It was interesting, and while it did not change my opinion of Eggers and of the one-sidedness of his telling of the story, everyone's comments gave me new ways of looking at the whole picture.

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