How did this happen in America? – Zeitoun book review

Many know the story of Hurricane Katrina and how it utterly destroyed one city. Many still and always will associate New Orleans with the natural disaster that ruined numerous homes and countless lives. But few know the real stories of those affected the most by this catastrophic event in American history.

“Zeitoun” is the true story of how one family, the Zeitouns, suffered the ramifications of Hurricane Katrina while enduring the scrutiny of being Syrian-American during the war on terror.

Abdulrahmen Zeitoun is a middle-aged man who owns a painting and contracting business in New Orleans. A husband and father of four, he is a good neighbor who knows many people in the community due to his work. His wife, Kathy, comes from a Christian baptist background but she converted to Islam before meeting and marrying Zeitoun. She helps manage the business and runs a smooth household.

Eggers does an excellent job introducing and unraveling each character with stories from their past, detailing pivotal moments, decisions and conversations in each character’s life. From the moment Kathy decided to convert to Islam, to the moment Abdulrahmen decided he was done with his life at sea, Eggers provides readers with enough information to feel as if they would have made the same decisions.

He uses just the right amount of imagery to engage readers in what’s happening around the Zeitouns in New Orleans before, during and after the storm.

Eggers takes his time getting to the action, building it up two days before Katrina hits. The day starts like any other for the Zeitoun family; the four kids up early, Kathy making breakfast and Zeitoun getting ready for the day’s work ahead.

Throughout the day they repeatedly hear reports of the “severe” storm but aren’t too worried and think it will be like all the other times storms in New Orleans resulted in much less than was anticipated. The more and more Kathy hears about the storm and precautions being given and taken, she begins to think they should leave the city. But Zeitoun doesn’t think it will be as bad as predicted and prefers to stay behind and take care of the house and his business. He urges Kathy to go instead. Hesitant, she takes the kids and drives to Baton Rouge to stay with family, leaving Zeitoun behind as he asked.

In New Orleans, Zeitoun deals with the aftermath of the storm and tries to save what he can from his home and sets up camp on the roof of his garage. Using a second-hand canoe he bought years earlier, he goes to as many houses he can get to saving residents trapped inside their homes and feeding dogs left behind by their owners.

The story takes a sudden turn when after getting almost too used to the damage Zeitoun is ready to leave New Orleans to meet his family in Baton Rouge is held at gunpoint by what appear to be six officers in his own property.

Throughout the book, readers hear from both Zeitoun and Kathy, jumping back and forth from his whereabouts and thoughts to hers. But with little warning or explanation Zeitoun disappears, leaving readers on the edge of their seats, wondering what could have happened to him?

Page after page, Eggers has readers on an emotional drive down a highway of anguish through Kathy. Days go by and she does not hear from Zeitoun. Knowing it is not like him to go long without checking in, she fears the worse, but tries to maintain calm and brave in front of her children—a task that gets more and more difficult each day she hears news reports of chaos in New Orleans and does not hear from her husband.

“In the bathroom, Kathy covered her face in a towel and bawled. Her body convulsed, but she tried not to make a sound,” is just one of the many moments the reader feels deep sympathy for Kathy and the entire Zeitoun family during this time of despair.

“Zeiroin is a shocking page turner and an example of true nonfiction storytelling leaving readers to question how something like this could happen in the home of the brave.