Dave Eggers is one of the best and most prolific storytellers and New Journalism practitioners of the 21st century.
From his memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius (2000) to the powerful social journalism of Surviving Justice: America's Wrongfully Convicted and Exonerated (2005) to What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng (2006), a novel based on the life of a a Sudanese refugee and a member of the Lost Boys of Sudan, Eggers displays an originality of style and a depth of substance remarkable for a writer still so young (he was born in 1970).
Zeitoun is Eggers' fourth book of non-fiction and 12th book (or so) overall. It may also be his best. It is the story of a Syrian immigrant to New Orleans and his family in the weeks of the summer of 2005 when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and unraveled the paralysis, the fear, the incompetence, the prejudices and the ruthlessness of a federal government overtaken by events on its own soil.
Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun were proud, hard-working, law-abiding citizens and residents of New Orleans, running a well-respected painting business and raising a family of four children (now five). When the storm hit, Kathy left town with the children, Abdulrahman stayed behind to take care of the family's properties. He survives the storm and thrives as a first responder to people and animals in distress--until he is arrested, along with three other people, on false charges of looting. His Arab accent seals his fate as a suspected terrorist. He is imprisoned in abject conditions in a makeshift concentration camp in new Orleans, then transferred to a different prison.
For days that stretch to weeks, his family doesn't know what has become of him and begins to assume he has perished.
Eggers, through meticulous reporting that includes rich canvassing of Zeitoun's past in Syria, renders the family's ordeal and the absurd ironies of Zeitoun's circumstances in details alternately heartbreaking and infuriating. Nothing in Eggers' approach is political, yet everything is. Zeitoun's treatment at the hands of a reactionary law enforcement and military establishment speaks for itself, though not without Eggers' perfectly invisible hand and all-too visible art.
It can be said of few writers that the publication of their book, any book, is an event. Eggers is one of those writers.
- Syria: Country Profile
- Hurricane Katrina Victims One Year Later: Neglect, Heroism and Despair
- Satire or Slander: The New Yorker's Obama Mujahideens
- Behind Charlotte Simmons' Burqah: What Bush Reads