Thursday, January 13, 2011

Literary Bite: Zeitoun

First things first – it’s pronounced ZAY-toon. My grandma got it for me for Christmas this year. I’d seen it around, and you probably have too – and Zeitoun is good! I’ve read just one other Dave Eggers book (What is the What) and didn’t adore it, but he is the editor of McSweeny’s (the best website ever, aside from Eat Run Read of course), so I gave him another chance.

The inside jacket of Zeitoun told me,
“Imagine Charles Dickens his sentimentality in check but his journalistic eyes wide open, roaming New Orleans after it was buried by Hurricane Katrina. He would find anger and pathos. A dark fable, perhaps. His villains would be evil and incompetent, even without Heckuva-Job-Brownie. In the end, though, he would not be able to constrain himself; his outrage might overwhelm the tale.” (NYT Review)

Well that’s fitting (in light of my recent reading) now isn’t it? Though as I read, I didn’t really see Dickensian similarities – I thought Zeitoun and Bleak House were complete opposites, but both really good!

Zeitoun was quite the page-turner (I turned all 359 of them in 3 days). It’s the story of a Syrian immigrant, Zeitoun, married to a Louisianan (who converted to Islam). Their family lives in New Orleans and runs a contractor business. When the storm comes, Zeitoun stays in the city while his wife and children leave…and you’ll just have to read the book to learn the rest.
This is the most I’ve read about Hurricane Katrina. I was just starting college when it happened, so I didn’t really follow all the details. This book opens up so many questions – some I’m sure are unanswerable - but some things that happened are just mind-blowing. Eggers is definitely critical of many things that happened during and after the storm, and is clearly outraged on behalf of Zeitoun. (It’s a true story about real people.)

I highly recommend this book – read it and let me know what you think!


  1. Hi, Molly, love drooling while reading your blog!

    Got a quick question for you. You had a link to a chocolate cake with dulce de leche on your want list. Is there anyway I could get that link? It looked amazing and I had planned to make it for a friend's birthday.


  2. Hi Molly, I just finished listening to Zeitoun.
    I wasn't expecting to be impressed with it; I wasn't in the mood for a memoir type listen but that was what was next on my audible books. It was well constructed; I had to check that everything turned out all right before I could continue listening.
    How disappointing that his and the others' arrest and incarceration was handled so primitively. It was amazing the no one was responsible to sort out who was really a criminal and who was not. It is very, very scary to realize how in a matter of seconds people had ALL of their rights and freedoms taken away, not in an enemy country but in the USA, for NO reason. The book gave me lots to think about.

  3. I'm glad you liked it! I was just talking about this book with a friend - both of us agreed that we were sufficiently un-impressed with Eggar's other books (like why is he such a big deal??) but Zeitoun was actually very good. I think it's his best work and disturbingly thought-provoking!