Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

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Five words from the blurb: Hurricane Katrina, flooded, neighbours, nightmare

In 2005 Hurricane Katrina devastated the city of New Orleans. Zeitoun is the true account of what happened to one man, a hard working resident who stayed in the city to protect his property and ended up in prison suspected of terrorism. This is the kind of unbelievable story that you’d never find in fiction. The twists and turns are staggering and it is shocking to discover that the events of this book happened in a modern American city.

Zeitoun begins by introducing the reader to Abdulrahman and his family. Abdulrahman was born in Syria, but emigrated to New Orleans where he set up a successful decorating business, employing a number of people around the city. The book covers the few days preceding the storm; goes on to show the effects of the strong winds and flooding on Abdulrahman’s neighbourhood; and culminates in the shocking way that Abdulrahman was treated by American authorities.

The writing was engaging throughout, the pace slowly building towards the shocking climax. I was worried that I’d find much of this book disturbing, but that wasn’t the case. Several distressing events were mentioned, but they were written so skillfully that they never traumatised me.

The book is well researched, with each account fact checked against many others. It is all intelligently written, but never becomes overburdened with statistics as the emotions of the people involved remains the priority throughout.

 This book is narrative non-fiction at its best. It highlights the way that American authorities managed to make a natural disaster even worse than it already was, but also shows the strength of the human spirit. I found many sections extremely poignant and found this quote from near the end especially moving:

It could have been avoided, she thinks. So many little things could have been done. So many people let it happen. So many looked away. And it only takes one person, one small act of stepping from the dark to the light.

Zeitoun does a fantastic job of showing the Muslim religion in a positive light whilst highlighting the racism that is present in some sections of American society. It is compelling, shocking and insightful.

Highly recommended. 


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  1. Sandy says:

    Awesome! I had this book in my hand once, and a worker at the bookstore convinced me to get his “What is the What” instead. I DO want to read this though. It is an important topic covered by a top notch author. (I’m so excited and thrilled that you liked it! It has the seal of approval!)

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, I know you will love this book – I’m off to buy What is the What on the strength of it.

  2. Emma says:

    I’m so glad to see you enjoyed this! I hardly ever read non-fiction but I have to say this book intrigued me when it came out in hardback and I’ve been wanting to read it ever since! Maybe now I will finally take the plunge…

    1. Jackie says:

      Emma, You should! I’m going through a bit of a non-fiction binge at the moment, but even without a love for non-fiction I’m sure this will grip you. Go for it!

  3. JoV says:

    I’m so happy you like this. I love this too and read it the year it was published! eye-opening. I heard Dave Eggers other books are just as good.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jo, I haven’t read any Eggers before, but I’m going to work through his back catalogue now! Glad to hear you enjoyed this one too.

  4. Great to see that you loved this as much as I did. Great review by the way.

    1. Jackie says:

      Judith, Thanks Judith. It is good to know I did justice to such a fantastic book.

  5. Jenny says:

    I just read this a few weeks ago and liked it less than you. It was a good book, a good story, but it also reminded me that I’m not still not okay reading books about Hurricane Katrina. It’s silly — I wasn’t in New Orleans for the hurricane, and nothing traumatic happened to me at all during it — but reading about it, or watching films or anything about it, stresses me out terribly. The final third of the book was so stressful to read, it was like reading while someone screamed in my ears. :/

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenny, I understand your situation. I’m sure that some events would have the same effect on me. I don’t think I’d be able to read a book about 9/11, despite not knowing anyone personally involved. Some subjects are too difficult for some people to read and there is nothing wrong with that.

  6. Alison P says:

    Jackie, I’m so glad you enjoyed this book. I’m a big fan of Dave Eggers and his style of writing. I can highly recommend his earlier book, What is the What, which is written in a similar style. It’s the true account of the life of young boy from Sudan caught up in Sudan’s civil war. Although a true account of his journey, Eggers calls the book a “novel” because some of the events took place when the boy was very young and so are recorded from his memory although all major events are factually accurate. The proceeds of the book are being used to build schools, libraries and fund teacher training in Sudan. A really important book.

    1. Jackie says:

      Alison, ‘What is the What’ is already high on my wishlist, but it is great to hear another endorsment for it. I look forward to trying it sometime soon.

  7. Care says:

    Fantastic eye-opening shocking book. Great review.

    1. Jackie says:

      Care, Thanks. I hope my review persuades a few more people to read this fantastic book.

  8. JoAnn says:

    I just couldn’t get through his earlier book, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and have been hesitant to start this one. It sounds like I should reconsider…

    1. Jackie says:

      JoAnn, I haven’t read Staggering Genius so I’m afraid I can’t compare the two, but I recommend that you give this a try. I think you’ll enjoy it.

    2. Christy says:

      JoAnn, I couldn’t finish Heartbreaking Work either and it was even assigned to me in one of my college English courses. Zeitoun is very, very different and very engrossing, if distressing to read at times (for me).

  9. Jenners says:

    I was shocked by what happened to Zeitoun. It made me so ashamed. But, like you said, it is full of goodness too. It was a well written book and I feel like Eggers matured as a writer based on the previous stuff I read by him. Wonderful review. I’m glad you liked it.

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, I’m a little bit sad to hear that you think Eggers matured as a writer for this book as I was hoping his others would be just as good. I still plan to try them, but I’ll keep my expectations in check.

  10. Brenna says:

    This is one of my all-time favorite books. After I finished it I tried to pass it on to as many people as I could. You really nailed it when you said “This book is narrative non-fiction at its best.” The story is so powerful and disturbing, a real eye-opener.

    1. Jackie says:

      Brenna, I can see myself passing this book onto lots of people too! I know exactly why you love it so much.

  11. Melissa says:

    This is my favorite Eggers book, I just loved it. It captured the emotion and frustration of the whole tragedy so well.

    1. Jackie says:

      Melissa, Glad you loved it too!

  12. I’ve heard a lot about this one but the one review that stuck was CB James’, where he says that the sentences were annoyingly short throughout the whole book. And very much like himself, he actually did some statistics. I can see by the quote you used that he had a point. Wasn’t it distracting to you?

    1. Jackie says:

      Alex, I didn’t notice the short sentences at all. I found the book very readable and engaging. Now you’ve brought this to my attention I went back and looked at CB James’ review


      and think that the short sentences actually added to the atmosphere – I think they increased the pace and kept everything simple. Perhaps I’d have been annoyed by it if I’d noticed early on? I look forward to finding out how you find it.

  13. Christy says:

    Glad you liked Zeitoun. It definitely is a book that will stick with me. I found it very distressing to read, especially as I didn’t know that Abdulrahman was arrested until that happened in the book. So I was shocked.


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