Book Review: Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

Yeah yeah, I know, it came out like three years ago. But having two children, running a small business, caring for eight kids every day, and keeping up a family’s busy schedule, I’m a few years behind on my reading wish list. So you may have been-there-done-that with this book, but I only just had the pleasure of reading it.

The story of Kathy and Abdulrahman Zeitoun is gripping. I read the whole thing in a week (that’s a motherhood record for me). I stayed up late nights and carried it around with me to snag a few pages whenever I had the chance. I couldn’t put it down.

It seems that beginning with this book, Dave Eggers’ career took a turn away from the self-involved boy wonder toward a powerful form of activism: getting the reader completely invested in the characters, and then simply telling their truth.

His description of news crews descending on New Orleans and reporting only the worst and ugliest incidents reminded me of why I doubt mainstream media. Swarms of national guardsmen and borrowed police forces swooping in and arresting anyone they saw, including old ladies getting food, reminded me of why I doubt authority (especially of the law-keeping bent).

The completion of a jail to house looters reminded me of why I doubt the transparency of our government. Eggers points out that “this complex and exceedingly efficient government operation was completed while residents of New Orleans were trapped in attics and begging for rescue.” Katrina was about racism and cynicism at its worst.

But the anger I feel just writing this isn’t present in the book. The writing is steady-handed and factual, even hopeful. It made me think of the vast untapped potential of our citizens, if we could only put our efforts into something productive instead of fighting over red and blue soundbites.

Finally, and it is pathetic that this is news to me, but I learned that Christian God and Islam Allah are actually the same deity. I wanted to pretend that I already knew that. That somewhere in my highly educated, culturally aware mind, that little nugget already existed. That in the endless media coverage of Islam in the last decade, I might have come across that information (mainstream media…need i say more?).

I wanted to casually mention it in conversation to my husband – oh, you didn’t know that? Everybody knows that. But I didn’t. And it was one of the great revelations of the book for me. I’ve always tried to be polite when I come across a woman wearing a head scarf, though I understand very little about their culture, country, or religion. Now I feel that instead of just a polite smile, I will have the guts to talk to them, to ask what it’s like to live in this country that can’t let go of its hatred for them, and to try to provide some form of kindness to ease what I imagine is an incredibly difficult burden.

After reading the story of the white Muslim woman married to the dark Syrian man and the torments they endured both before and after Katrina, I am literally a changed person. And I am reminded why we should never become complacent. Now – go read this book!

Author: Sitting On The Baby

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