Friday, August 14, 2009

NYT review of dave eggers' latest book 'zeitoun'

What's the connection between American writer Dave Eggers and olives? This is what some readers of the New York Times Sunday Book Review may think when they see that it carries has a an exuberant review by Timothy Egan of Eggers' latest book 'Zeitoun'. The book is in fact a non-fiction account of the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans seen from the perspective of Abdulrahman Zeitoun, "a middle-aged Syrian-­American father of four, owner of a successful painting and contracting firm. He works hard and takes good care of his loved ones, in America and in Syria. He is also the kind of neighbor you wish you could find at Home Depot."

His wife, Kathy," has Southern Baptist big-family roots, but drifts after a failed early marriage until she finds a home in Islam and a doting husband in Abdul. Her hijab is a problem for her family, and for many citizens in post-9/11 America. Yet her charms and his smarts make for a good pairing at home and at the office — which is often the same place, an old house in the Uptown neighborhood of New Orleans."

At one point during the family's watery hell Zeitoun is taken away by six armed officers. "After that he goes missing, with no contact with the outside world. His wife assumes, after six days without communication, that he’s dead. This is perhaps the most haunting part of the book, and Eggers’s tone is pitch-perfect — suspense blended with just enough information to stoke reader outrage and what is likely to be a typical response: How could this happen in America?

"Only a spoiler would reveal anything beyond this point. Suffice it to say that Zeitoun is mistaken for a terrorist and subjected to a series of humiliations, locked in a cage, then a prison, all the while without being charged with anything or even being allowed to make a phone call to his wife."

All in all, 'Zeitoun' is "a more powerful indictment of America’s dystopia in the Bush era than any number of well-written polemics. That is in large part because Eggers has gotten so close to his subjects, going back and forth between Syria and America, crosscutting to flesh out the family and their story."

Another book for the "must read" list.

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