Reviews in 200 Words

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

In True-life Novel on February 9, 2010 at 2:07 pm

Read this with heavy hands—heavy pages. This is a true story: Abdulrahman Zeitoun, his wife, Kathy, and their four children are real people–their story is real. This is as clear as a film: one that you keep leaning over in, to whisper to your partner, “this really happened.” Beginning two days before Katrina hit New Orleans, you know what’s coming. And when it comes, Eggers gives you the constant brain-freeze headache of Kathy—Southern Baptist turned Muslim, driving to safe ground, away from her husband. The minutes and hours between phone conversations echo. And he gives you the fierce determination of Zeitoun—Syrian-American who stays behind, who paddles around his neighborhood in a canoe, saving people, dogs, anything in his path. Kathy watches the news–sees the bodies on the screen. There is so much space and silence between the members of this family. The mantras continue: “help me,” “I wish you would leave,” and “I’m fine.” This book is post-Katrina—the pain and the mistakes are still powerfully heavy; but it’s also post-9/11—the pain and the mistakes are unbelievably embarrassing. Don’t assume you know what’s coming: there’s more than one storm, more than one disaster.

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  1. I'm glad you did this one, a favorite of mine from 2009. I like what he's doing with these documentary-style novels: first with “What is the What,” and now more close to home with “Zeitoun.”I just finished his novelization of “Where the Wild Things Are” and it was — in my opinion — just as astonishing.

  2. Am teaching this book soon in my fiction class. Cheating? The characterization and images/symbols are novelistic.

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