Zeitoun: Life of an Immigrant After Katrina

Photo courtesy of McSweeney's.

Dave Eggers, known for his self-reflective, verbose works, wrote Zeitoun, a character-driven potboiler account of a single family living in New Orleans. With the story of the Zietouns, Eggers reaches to the core of each reader’s pathos. He lets the reader know his true feelings about immigration with this great narrative of nonfiction.

The protagonist Abdulrahman Zeitoun is a refugee who owns a painting and contracting business. He also manages several rental properties throughout the city. His wife Kathy, a Louisiana native, met Abdulrahman when he immigrated to America from Jableh, Syria. They have four children, and this is their American dream.

On Aug. 27, Kathy hears of an impending storm throughout the day. She doesn’t worry too much about it because big storms are common in the area. However, at the end of the day, Kathy hears the news that there is a family lost at sea. It is at this moment that patience and sense of calm leave her. Having lived moments like this before, she takes their children and drives to Baton Rouge to ensure their safety. Abdulrahman, being stubborn, refuses to go with them. He decides to watch over the other houses in the neighborhood and various other properties.

Hurricane Katrina, listed at a Category 3, struck the Gulf Coast of America Aug. 29, 2005. It leaves a trail of destruction throughout Louisiana and Mississippi. Houses are destroyed leaving families searching for shelter and loved ones. Many are without power waiting out the storm, while others are being packed into the Superdome, home of the New Orleans Saints football team. Abdulrahman, lies awake listening to Katrina make its way through the city. After the hurricane, he meets up with other three other Syrian immigrants and neighbors to see how they can help with cleanup. The four men go out on boat to take food and water to citizens and stray dogs in need.

On Tuesday, Sept. 6, Abdulrahman prepares to call Kathy from his house on Claiborne Street when a number of police and military officers burst into the home. The officers refuse to listen to Abdulrahman’s protest that this home is his and he and the other Syrians aren’t squatting. The officers order the men into their boat. From there they are taken to a makeshift prison with no phone call and no access to an attorney. It is unknown if his arrest is hidden behind a political agenda or Islamophobia.

Kathy assumes the worst has happened to Abdulrahman. She doesn’t find out about his poor treatment until the end of September. He had been suffering at the hands of those who are supposed to protect and serve America.

Eggers does a beautiful job of showing how difficult it is to be an immigrant in the U.S. It is not an eloquently written story, but Eggers hits the reader in the gut with the reality of immigrant struggles. He writes without indicting former President George Bush’s actions following Katrina. It’s a story showing the humanity of immigrants and how they are just like everybody else in America. They are trying to support their family, build a life for themselves and overall, just trying to hang on like a hubcap in the fast lane.

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