Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Zeitoun - Dave Eggers

2009, 359 pages
In 2005 the hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. After the storm the levies broke and the city, built mostly below sea level, got flooded, in one of the biggest disasters in the US history, with more than a thousand dead and damage of billions. After the storm anarchy ruled the city with group of criminals looting the abandoned houses and businesses. The Bush administration got a lot of criticism for the way it handled the storm and its damages.
The book tells the true story of Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a Syrian immigrant to the US who lives in New Orleans with his wife Cathy, and American who converted to Islam, and their kids. He works as a painting and construction contractor and manages some properties he rents. He decides he cannot leave his business and has to stay in town during the storm. He is not afraid. He is well equipped, his house is high and the second floor will be safe even in the case of a flood, and he already went through some other storms with no problem.
After the flooding he spends his days rowing his second-hand canoe through the city streets, rescuing people and feeding abandoned dogs. His family members around the world see the horrific pictures from the city in the news and urge him to leave town. (His sister that stayed in Syria says: in what kind of country do you leave? You have to come back living in Syria!) Will he survive the chaos in the city?
The book gives a fascinating view from personal experience on the events in the city during this time. It also sheds a light on the life of Muslims in the US, both American born and immigrants from Muslim countries, the Islamic community with its care of each other that could be seen during these hard times, and the attitude from the surrounding and the authorities. The book raises hard questions about dealing with such hard situations, both locally with what happened after the storm in New Orleans and in general with what happened after 9/11 and fighting terror. The question is asked – how much violating human rights is justified when the intent is to protect the public, and what is the personal responsibility of the cops and soldiers executing the commands. I don’t think there is a simple answer to these questions, and the book does not give them, but tells the personal story of the characters of the book.
I think it is very much worth reading.
All income from the book goes to the Zeitoun foundation dedicated to rebuilding New Orleans and protect human rights in United States.

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