Friday, March 11, 2011

Dave Eggers' "Zeitoun" (Steak Knives/Cadillac)

People should read this book.  Americans should definitely read this book.

I'd followed the news of Katrina and New Orleans, as many many others did, of course.  It was easy to be disgusted by the failure of governance in response to this catastrophe at every level, but it's in the specific, lived experiences - stories like Abdulrahman Zeitoun's - that really hammer home a disturbing view of what you might call a sick American spirit.  Really, there's no other way to put it.

Eggers' non-fictional account of Zeitoun (a Syrian-born painter/contractor in New Orleans) provides much optimism in the sharing of his (and others') selfless and often subtle heroism in the wake of the Katrina disaster.   Much of the first half of the book recounts his personal/family history that sets the stage for his decision to remain behind during and after the storm (ostensibly, to check on his/clients' properties, but also given a long history of 'false alarms').  With an old aluminum canoe, he tours his destroyed neighborhood and manages to rescue several residents unable to escape on their own.  It's notable that the quiet and slow moving canoe allowed him to hear cries for help that would otherwise have been drowned out by motorboats, helicopters or fan boats.  He also drew from his own food stores to feed stranded dogs, sharing his clean water with them (and others) which was in very short supply.

No good deed goes unpunished, of course.  Without giving away too much of the second act of the story, Zeitoun is seized by 'authorities' and spends a great deal of time in legal limbo, experiencing a hell that's hard to imagine - particularly in such a 'great' and 'advanced' nation as the U.S. 

There's plenty of 'just following orders', 'it's not my problem' and racial prejudice/irrational fear to go around.  Simply put, it makes you angry and sick to the stomach, and despairing for the cause of basic justice in the 'developed' world.

If the terrorists hate the United States for their freedoms, then this book should make Americans feel much, much safer...

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