by Dave Eggers
Zeitoun is the true story of a successful man, a respected business owner with a devoted wife, three children, a dog, and rental properties all over town. Unfortunately, that town is New Orleans, he's a Syrian-American, and his life is about to change forever.
Abdulrahman Zeitoun is the kind of guy you like to have around in times of crisis. He's calm, self-assured, and resourceful. When the news comes that Katrina may be more than the standard summer storm, Zeitoun helps his wife pack the kids and dog off to Baton Rouge to stay with her sister; Zeitoun decides to stay to watch over the family home and all the tenants of their rental properties. His wife isn't happy about it, but knows that her husband is as stubborn as he is hard-working. The two are in constant contact via cell phone, as usual. As devastating as the storm is, Zeitoun sees the flood as an opportunity to make use of a secondhand canoe he'd picked up at a yard sale. He paddles around his neighborhood, helping anyone he can and checking on neighbors. With help from other residents, he rescues several elderly people from their homes. And every day he feeds the abandoned dogs in the house across the street.
As Kathy Zeitoun follows the horrific news stories, her calls to Zeitoun get increasingly insistent -- he's got to get out of there, leave town now that the storm has passed. After his cell phone runs out of power he takes his canoe over one of his properties every day at noon to call his family. And it's there, one day, as Zeitoun is about to call his wife, that several military personnel burst in the door and arrest him. He is never given a phone call; as far as his family knows, he is dead.
Dave Eggers writes the story in a subdued, just-the-facts style--no verbal fireworks are needed, of course. I was riveted. A lot of books have been written about the Bush years, and I haven't felt much need to read them; I know what I think about his administration. But, without even touching on anything political, Zeitoun says volumes about the catastrophe of Katrina, of New Orleans, and of our nation's response to a city in crisis.