Dave Eggers’ non-fiction account of an Islamic family’s experiences before and after Hurricane Katrina portrays an America at odds with its own ideals and principles.
In his opening notes Eggers writes that he is not attempting to write an all-encompassing book about New Orleans or Hurricane Katrina, but only an account of one family’s experiences and opinions. By personalising the story this way, Eggers puts a face to the many news reports that criticised the handling of the disaster.
Syrian born Abdulramen Zeitoun and his American wife, Kathy, have carved themselves their own slice of the American dream. They run a successful painting and contracting business and own several investment properties. When the hurricane makes its way towards New Orleans, Kathy leaves with their children while Abdulramen stays behind to watch over his investments. As New Orleans is flooded in the aftermath of the hurricane, Abdulramen rows around the disaster zone in an aluminium canoe, rescuing various people and feeding trapped dogs. It is not until his persecution at the hands of those who are supposed to be helping that it becomes clear that New Orleans is being policed outside of America’s laws.
In the meantime Kathy, who is a convert to Islam, is left to endure racial stereotyping from her Baptist family, liaise with Abdulramen’s family and wonder if she will see her husband again.
With what can only be described as a plain, matter of fact writing style, Eggers avoids the trickery that made him a literary boy wonder and gives a personal rendition of a family confronted by brutality and injustice in a post 9-11 America.