17 May 2012
I just speed-read my way through Dave Eggers' Zeitoun, and honestly, once I started it, I couldn't put the damn book down! Zeitoun is a work of non-fiction based on the true story of the events that occurred to Abdulrahman Zeitoun before, during, and after Hurricane Katrina in September of 2004. Before reading this book, I will be honest: when I hear the words "Hurricane Katrina" two things come to mind - Kanye West's telling statement on a live national television broadcast and my own experience gutting houses in the Lower 9th Ward nearly two years after the hurricane struck.
I picked up this book, initially drawn to it by the cover - how strange, a man paddling in a canoe through a neighborhood. Then came the name. Names like this have been imprinted into our national subconscious - as Americans living in the post 9/11 world, it has been ingrained in us to suspect names like this and people who look a certain way. And it is unfortunate. How funny and strange that what drew me to this book was the way it looked and its title. The very things I try not to be aware of, I try not to make judgments of, are seeping into the way in which I consume things, including literature! But rest assured, I bought the book not just out of curiosity. I bought it because the proceeds go to the Zeitoun Foundation to help rebuild the community of New Orleans, a place I will always hold dear to my heart. And I bought it because after meeting Dave Eggers and Achek Deng of What is the What, I grew to trust him as an author and as a person trying to do good through his gift of writing.
I read this book quickly and aptly because it was good. It was informative, it was honest, it was structured beautifully, and it made me feel like I was a part of something I did not know existed. I knew some of the aftermath of Katrina, and I was generally angry about the overall response of our government and FEMA - but to know that a man (among many others) was picked up due to racial profiling, and kept in an ill-fitting maximum security prison, when so many people were in dire need of help... it just got me. I felt angry and helpless and empowered all at once while reading this. I felt better for becoming aware of this, but so saddened by what happened to Zeitoun and his family. I think everyone should read this book, if not just to support the Zeitoun Foundation, but to gain a truly unique picture of what happened in the days and months following Katrina. To know another piece of the puzzle of what happened.