Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Wednesday's Book

Welcome Kay, a new follower of my blog.

By Dave Eggers

My friend Jane sent me four books back in January: Zeitoun, Brother I'm Dying, A Guide to the Birds of East Africa, and Plain Song. I haven't read Plain Song yet, but I think I read the first three books in a little more than a week. They were all that good. It was interesting for me, as an immigrant myself, to find that in all three books, the main characters were also immigrants. Zeitoun, a New Orleans painting contractor, was originally from Syria; the brothers in the next book were from Haiti; and the bird watchers in the third book were from India. I should say they were some generations removed from their immigrant forefathers, who came to Kenya, where this book takes place, to work on the railroads.

Zeitoun, as so many others in New Orleans, had ridden out many hurricanes before Katrina and was, therefore, not all that concerned. After his wife and children left town, he decided to stay. My husband is from New Orleans and we have many relatives there and many of his childhood friends still live there. I remember my husband calling a friend of his, who refused to leave, the night before the storm hit. I remember that although most of the older relatives left town, one of his uncles refused to leave. He and his wife ended up spending many long days with little to eat and drink in the phone company building where their daughter worked. Zeitoun's brother kept calling him from Spain, of all places, begging him to leave as well.

This book tells the story of Zeitoun, a Muslim immigrant to the US, who met an American Muslim woman, named Kathy, got married, had kids, and established a successful contracting business in New Orleans. As Muslims, they had run into some problems, but they were basically accepted and well liked by their customers and their community. A part of the book talks about Zeitoun's early life with his parents and siblings in a small fishing town on the coast of Syria. Then it moves on to Katrina and the aftermath of the storm.

Zeitoun owned a canoe and the book tells the story of how, as he traveled all across New Orleans in his canoe, he rescued a woman trapped in a house, he helped others, he checked on his properties, he fed some trapped dogs, and even though he didn't follow the mandatory evacuation orders, he did no harm.

Toward the end of the book, he and two other men are arrested, probably by the National Guard, armed with M-16s and pistols, at one of Zeitoun's properties. They are detained and put in a temporary jail, erected at New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal, where normally Greyhound buses and Amtrak trains park. There they are separated and Zeitoun and his fellow Syrian are put in a small cage. They are threatened by the guards; they are called terrorists, Taliban, al Qaeda, and so on. It seems like they are being fed nothing but pork, which of course they can't eat, and there is nothing to sleep on but the concrete of the bus parking lot. Reading this part was horrific and unbelievable. One really does not want to believe that things like that can happen here in one's adopted country. This temporary jail was set up so that convicted prisoners, from a prison nearby, could be evacuated. That made sense, better than drowning in the storm, but why Zeitoun ended up there, does not make any sense whatsoever. He was eventually released but I'm sure life did not go back to normal for him and his family.

And the dogs he had been feeding, died, all of them. And I cried. It was that kind of a book.


  1. Sounds like a good book, but, too sad for me.

  2. I've been interested in any type of stories, fiction and non-fiction, dealing with Katrina. I find the whole ordeal fascinating, but so sad.

  3. Sadly, I think so many atrocities occurred during the Katrina disaster. We are fans of the HBO series "Treme" which shows so many facets of how families were affected by this tragedy.

  4. That sounded like a great book, Inger....except for the dogs dying. I too would cry. We are, after all, human....:)JP

  5. This is not a sad book -- I have to set the record straight. It's just me and dogs trapped and dying. I can't stand it and I think being overwhelmed with images of those dogs in the aftermath of Katrina and imagining what they went through. I can't deal with it. But that was just one line in a wonderful book about some wonderful man, a strong man and a survivor. It is very well written and I recommend it strongly. It also was an Entertainment Weekly Book of the Decade, A NY Times Notable Book, and named One of the Best Books of the Year by many newspapers and magazines. Read it, you will not regret it.

  6. Knowing that it's not fiction, I would have to probably set it aside for a time when I can concentrate on it. I like to give biographies and such "one only" treatment, not my usual 4 or 5 books at once thing. There was a log of things that happened in Katrina, that I hope people learned from, for the better. :/


  7. This is a great review of Eggers' book. I think the book will emerge as a classic, but a lot of people have had trouble reading it because our wounds are still raw from Katrina, and so much of the abuse of Muslims and other immigrants is still going on.

    Let's hope we learn from the brave Muslims who are now throwing off the yoke of their oil baron tyrants and throw off the yoke of some of the oil baron tyrants who are trying to take over our own government.

    Thanks for commenting on my blog! This one is lovely. Lots of great photos.

  8. Thank you for the book's always good to have something new to read, and I like your take on it. Thinking I may cry at the end too....

  9. I am sure we don't now about a lot of things that happened during the whole Katrina episode!

  10. Beautiful pictures of the dogs and a nice story. Have a nice weekend. Greetings

  11. sounds like a very lovely book. i love to read a lot will like to read the books, but i am very sure that i will cry my eyes out and my husband will just be wondering what is wrong with me..loll

  12. I've just read this book and I enjoyed it so much. Being from New Zealand, I had no real idea of the chaos that followed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. I'm so glad to have read this book about a wonderful man (and his family). Thank you for the recommendation, I would never have found this book otherwise! Alice


Thanks for leaving a comment.. ~~ Inger


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