just finished reading dave eggers’ latest novel, zeitoun, the first nonfiction book i’ve read in a very long time. it told the story of a syrian-american immigrant and devout muslim named abdulrahman zeitoun. zeitoun experienced unthinkable brutality at the hands of the u.s. government after making the brave (or bull-headed) decision to ride out hurricane katrina in his own neighborhood and help those left behind: the sick, the elderly, the handicapped, even the abandoned animals. in the wake of destruction, new orleans became a police state run by power-crazed fema officials and military personnel (sent with the intention of carrying out rescue & recovery efforts and maintaining order) who abused their power in unforgivable ways. zeitoun, who struggled valiantly to make up for the inefficiency and neglect he was witnessing, tragically became one of their victims. snatched from his canoe and delivered to a makeshift maximum-security prison where he was wrongfully accused of looting and, inexplicably, terrorism, his plight evidences post-9/11 religious discrimination, our increasingly threatened civil liberties, and the cruelty and corruption condoned by our government’s blurry “war on terror.” i was breathless after many chapters, hardly able to believe that such things could happen in the united states.
on a side note, it was revealed earlier this month that the book’s hero and namesake, zeitoun, was convicted last year of domestic abuse against his wife, another of the book’s most-lovable characters. though the news does sour my opinion of him, i hope it doesn’t negate the book’s message, as zeitoun’s experience during - and after - hurrican katrina was unfortunately a rule rather than an exception.