originally published 2009, McSweeney's Books
In 2005, Abdulrahman Zeitoun and his wife Kathy, along with their family of three children, lived in New Orleans. That summer, life was going on as normal for the Zeitouns - after years of working for others, Abdulrahman ran a successful contracting and painting business, their little girls were watching and acting out the dvd of Pride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time, and Kathy acted as stay-at-home mom as well as business partner for her husband. Life was good for this family.
But as Katrina approached the Gulf, expected to hit New Orleans and hit it hard, Kathy started getting nervous and grabbed the kids, some clothes and the family dog and left to stay with family in Baton Rouge. Her husband decided to stay back and look after the house & his business interests. Kathy wasn't happy about his decision, but Abdulrahman was insistent. Then came the hurricane, the breaking of the levees, and the aftermath of it all. After the storm was over, Kathy, unable to get back into the city, was able to keep in sporadic contact with her husband, who managed to convey that he was okay. Day after day she listened to the news, and as the situation deteriorated there, she grew more uneasy. And then one day, Abdulrahman just stopped calling.
The straightforward prose is easy to read and although the book weighs in at about 300 pages, it captures the imagination quickly as the reader gets caught up in the story. As it goes on, the intensity picks up to where this book is nearly impossible to put down. The story clearly belongs to Abdulrahman Zeitoun and his family, even though it is Dave Eggers who brings their account to life in a professional and journalistic manner, helped by an army of researchers and fact checkers as well as the Zeitoun family itself.
Zeitoun examines the post-hurricane situation through the eyes of a man who lived it and the effects his experiences had on himself and on his family. It's not just an account of a Katrina survivor, nor is it an in-depth tell-all about the failures of the local, regional, state and federal government responses. There are plenty of places where those types of accounts are available. Instead, Abdulrahman Zeitoun's story steers the reader to the point of a head-on collision between post-9/11 policies, racial & religious intolerance, and the efforts of these agencies to regain any measure of control after the most devastating natural disaster in this country. The book sends the message that something vital to our sense of well-being as American citizens is broken and desperately needs fixing -- and I'm not talking about the levees in New Orleans.
Read this book, then pass it along to someone you know. If you're not shaking your head in disbelief, let's just say I'll be very surprised.
(sorry about the typeface change...I am having trouble moving from MS word to here.)