Book review: Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

| Posted by Bel | The time is 10.15am here in Wellington NZ |

Yesterday I promised you lazy. How lazy? How about a blog post copy and pasted from an email I wrote to Lou earlier this week??

If you haven't read Zeitoun, please taihoa because we are chock full of SPOILERS below. Oh and rampant hating on the administration of at-the-time-US president George W Bush.

From: Lou
To: Bel
Subject: Zeitoun
Date: Sat, Nov 27, 2010 at 9:18 AM

Thoughts please!

Did you know about the parking lot prison when you read it? I didn't and literally felt like a cartoon when I got to it - like my bottom jaw literally fell to the floor and my tongue rolled out and I made the Scooby-Doo "huh" noise. It has been in the media a couple of times in the past year but I was hoping you wouldn't have seen so as to get the full impact!

FYI: did you see that George W recently said in his memoirs that his lowest moment was being accused of being racist during the Katrina aftermath. Not the aftermath itself... I saw this on the TV in Vegas and was shouting at the television.

From: Bel
To: Lou
Date: Mon, Nov 29, 2010 at 10:16 AM

I had my usual cultural context/current affairs amnesia take over me as I read the book and was so caught up in the narrative that everything came as a surprise.

Like, to the extent that when the storm passes and it's bad, but not that bad in terms of their experiences of hurricanes, I was like "aawh... yay..." and totally FORGOT about the whole FLOODING thing. Shame.

Okay. So.  Here are some of my thoughts:

  1. Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck.
  2. And then at the end, it mentions that the other three guys all spent, like, 6 months longer in the maximum security prison than him!! Fuuuuck!!
  3. But assumedly not in solitary confinement. Did I tell you (or link to) this article I read about solitary confinement?? It was about this guy who was wrongly imprisoned for like 35 years and spent most of it in solitary (yes, in the USA, of course). There's all the psychiatric studies now about how the worst prison treatment is not being beaten or starved, but solitary. It's pretty much actually guaranteed to send you mental and make you incapable of returning to a normal life elsewhere in the prison, let alone 'outside'. [ETA: this isn't the article I originally read, but there is a great series here on NPR if you want to bone up on this subject.]
  4. Nope, no idea about the Guatanomo style prison. (I think I just thought he'd been locked up for ages bc of the paranoia that terrorists were 'around' post-Katrina. No actual idea of the content of the book, thanks to some effective paranoid skimming of articles in the past hehhee.)
  5. That bit where he does the construction-business-man style calculations in his head, and figures out how it must have taken them literally days to build it all, with supplies trucked in, while people were literally drowning in the neighbouring suburbs, is so gut-wrenching.
  6. I thought it was very restrained the way the book doesn't actually point any fingers. (See George W Bush rant below.) It mentions that all of the funding and administration of FEMA (that's their equivalant of our Civil Defence, right?) had been sucked up into the new formly Dept of Homeland Security (gaaawd that name is sooo ridiculous), but doesn't actually say "Worst. Idea. Ever." and instead just let's you see how that plays out.
  7. Same with the military forces in the book. Whenever they appear, they're always these cyphers, nameless, featureless, adbrupt and brutal. They have been trained into machines and they have no humanity.
  8. Complete contrast to Zeitoun, who seems to be pretty much the best person in the world.
  9. I cried when he got out of prison. I also found it really affecting how Kathy removed her hijab that time and realised chunks of her hair had turned white. (Perhaps bc of my recent hair-related traumas?)
  10. I loved the way the book presented spirituality in general. How it strived to show why being religious was an important, integral part of these people's lives. How it was just normalcy for them. I think that for some who views Muslim as 'other' it would have been a good way of bridging that difference, and seeing it as another facet of the same kinds of beliefs for conventional Christianity. I.e. not actually part and parcel of being an evil bloodythirsty terrorist.
  11. I thought at first they weren't going to tell the story of how Kathy converted, but rather sort of leave it as just an implict background thing, that that was just part of their normal lives, that this Southern white woman is a Muslim, yeah what of it. So when her conversion story did get told, I was like oooOOOOOoooh. (Crack up that it was her and her Japanese-American friend. Are there ANY proper Muslims in America??)
  12. Weird how the book talks a lot about the three daughters, but not much about the older son (from a previous marriage) Zachary. I assume this was intentional....? Like how in AHWOSG he downplayed his older sister (bc she was battling w depression) (the one who was then acrimonious about being left out of the book, who he then made up with, who then killed herself) (sob!).

Re George W. He said that the lowest moment in his whole presidential career was being called racist after Katrina. My god. I have SO MANY issues with this:
  1. I am conflicted, bc it was Kayne West who called him out on this, and Kanye West is pretty much cuckoo for cocopops....
  2. ....and yet when he made this statement [ETA: man, I love watching that, the best jump cut since Goddard was at his peak], it was bang on the money. Hence, why it got censored and hence why it actually did hurt GWB's feelings. THE TRUTH HURTS, BUDDY, IT HURTS.
  3. Bush's comment in his memoir seems to be one of those "I'm sorry if you took that the wrong way and you decided to feel hurt by what I said" apologies, you know? When someone weasels their way out of actually acknowledging being in the wrong at all?? (Fuck I hate when people do that.)
  4. Not to downplay Katrina and its aftermath at all, but really, George, really?? Of all the shit that went down, that is what you think back upon?!
    1. Not that bullshit with the fictional WMDs;
    2. or the thousands of civilians who died in various countries bc of your and Condelezza's constant hawking;
    3. or the spread of HIV/AIDS throughout Africa bc of your refusal to fund health programmes which supply condoms;
    4. or the recession brought on through your administrations mismanagement of the economy;
  5. He has now actually done some really good work in Haiti (with Bill Clinton) and one part of me is like "yay!" and the other part is like "are... you... fucken... kidding... me?? do... you... want... a... medal...??"
  6. Last 2 paras of this are HILARIOUS in illustrating the differences btwn the two presidents and why Bush suuuuuccckkksss:

From: Lou
To: Bel
Date: Tue, Nov 30, 2010 at 11:52 AM

Yep. To everything.

I would like to see an earlier draft - I would imagine that Dave probably literally sat down with the manuscript and went through it purely to remove any statements that could be seen to be political against GWB (or military) specifically so as to remove any ammunition for people to disregard the story as being "liberal propaganda". The story so speaks for itself that it doesn't need anything more anyway.

And yep, re: GWB. But he'd have to admit that any of those other things were wrong to name anything associated with that... And I think within the American cultural framework of being "WOO AMERICA YEAH US AGAINST EVERYONE" the way he completely fucked over Americans during Katrina and its aftermath is actually probably the most damaging and telling thing against him from the perspective of Americans (who are obviously the only people he cares about).

FYI: you should now get your hands on the doc Trouble the Water:

It has the documentary footage/ firsthand accounts of the abandoned people to accompany the book and provide the sort of "every(wo)man" experience of the situation.

From: Bel
To: Lou
Date: Tue, Nov 30, 2010 at 12:20 PM

The draft version where the footer on each page was PS fuck Bush!!!!!!

You are right about how the story speaks for itself. It didn't need any (leftist/liberal) trimmings - in fact, it was almost infuriating how Zeitoun is still so pro-America at the end and has all this belief and hope and crap and you're like 'but whhhyyyyyyyy?????'.

Trouble The Water! Yes. I was trying to think of that, but could only remember the name of the Spike Lee one. (I nearly wrote Spike Jonze just then. I don't imagine his take on Katrina would be quite the same.)

From: Bel
To: Lou
Date: Tue, Nov 30, 2010 at 12:29 PM

Just watched the trailer. EMOTIONAL.

3 thoughts on “Book review: Zeitoun by Dave Eggers”

  1. FYI #1: I wouldn't normally reply with such brevity to such a long email, but alas I was in the midst of becoming a redundasaurus.

    FYI#2: Bel's text asking if it was okay to post our emails as a blog came through as I was sitting in my living room in London with Sonal saying that the majority of charges on my phone were from texting Bel in NZ. For my phone to at that exact moment beep with a text from Bel that warranted a response was kinda creeeeepy...

  2. Zeitoun was by far the best book I have read this year. It's so important for Americans to read this to wake up to what is happening.

    Of course I am a bit biased having been a Calif. tourist unable to get out of NOLA before Katrina. (They shut down the airport, Amtrak, and Greyhound prior to the evacuation.) So Eggers' book was very poignant and emotional for me. But do consider sending it to someone who loves our country as a gift.

    Paul Harris
    Author, "Diary From the Dome, Reflections on Fear and Privilege During Katrina"