Zeitoun (Review)

September 5, 2012

Book cover for "Zeitoun" by Dave Eggers.Title: Zeitoun

Author: Dave Eggers

Narrator: Firdous Bamji

Publication Year: 2009

Pages: 368 (audio length: 10 hours 24 minutes)

Genre: Fiction

Source: Audiobook version purchased from Audible.com

From the cover:

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 eerie days after the storm, he traveled the flooded streets in a secondhand canoe, passing on supplies and rescuing those he could. A week later, on September 6, 2005, Zeitoun abruptly disappeared.

Eggers’s riveting work, three years in the making, follows Zeitoun back to his childhood in Syria and around the world during his years as a sailor. The book also traces the story of Zeitoun’s wife Kathy – a boisterous Southerner who converted to Islam – and their wonderful, funny, devoted family. When Zeitoun vanishes, Kathy is left to make sense of the surreal atmosphere (in New Orleans and the United States generally) in which what happened to Abdulrahman Zeitoun was possible.

I don’t actually remember exactly how I stumbled onto this book, but I’m so glad that I did. It’s my first Eggers book, and if you haven’t read him before either, it’s an excellent choice for a first experience.

Zeitoun is the fascinatingly true story of a man who decides to stay in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, while his wife and children evacuate the city. It’s also the story, in part, of his family’s history in Syria, and of Kathy’s tumultuous relationship with her family in Baton Rouge – particularly after her decision to convert to Islam.

It was interesting for me to read about what Zeitoun got up to in New Orleans in the immediately aftermath of the hurricane, particularly when he met up with other people and how they occupied their time. Even more interesting, though, and probably one of the most important reasons why I’m suggesting that you read this book, is what happened to him when he disappeared and his family lost contact with him – as well as hope that he had survived. The second half of the book is an indictment of the government’s response to Hurricane Katrina, and the way that they treated people who had stayed in New Orleans – by choice or because they couldn’t afford to evacuate.

Bamji, the narrator of the audiobook, does an excellent job of portraying the different characters, and of conveying the emotional turmoil and suspense of the story. I found his voice relaxing and it let me settle into the story, something that I find particularly important when listening to an audiobook.

Regardless of whether you are American or not, Zeitoun is an interesting read. There’s an added layer of depth to it if you are living in the United States, but for me as a Canadian living overseas, I still felt a connection to the characters and to the story as a whole. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, and I know that you will, too.

Rating:

2 Comments

  • Alex (Sleepless Reader) September 5, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    I remember reading an interesting review of this book over at “Ready When You Are, C.B.” where he points out how short the sentences were and how that disturbed his reading. Did you feel it?

    • Carina September 5, 2012 at 10:00 pm

      Interesting! I didn’t even notice that. Maybe because I was reading it as an audiobook, so the narrator was able to temper that by his speed or inflection?

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