Zeitoun

You knew the story, or at least you thought you understood what hurricane Katrina did to New Orleans – until you read Dave Eggers’ Zeitoun.  The story begins with the coming of the storm, the devastation that follows, and the incompetent government handling.  But you knew all that – what you will learn is what happened to a family and the man who chose to stay behind to help others – Abdulrahnam Zeitoun, an American Muslim builder in New Orleans.

At first, you will be lulled into an appreciation of the man, Zeitoun, as he paddles through the waterlogged streets in his canoe, rescuing old women and feeding dogs left behind. His ingenuity becomes a beacon of hope, but not for long. The mayor seems more interested in restoring order at any cost; building a prison has priority over shelter for survivors. The National Guard seems dazed and confused, and worse, dangerous, as they treat the crippled city like a war zone.

Eventually, our hero is mistaken for a criminal looter, or worse, and imprisoned.  His life becomes a nightmare.  The description of Camp Greyhound and the treatment of innocent citizens who might look like they could be terrorists is terrifying.

The story really hasn’t ended; the federal government is still trying to figure it out. But Zeitoun and his family survive, and start over – despite the insult-to-injury mentality of a government that sends a large inoperable “white elephant” trailer to sit in front of the house they are rebuilding.

After suffering humiliation and despair, Zeitoun and his family still offer their optimistic and hopeful view that lessons learned will make it better next time.   You will wonder …

A powerful true story that reads like fiction – too bad it is true.

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