Dave Eggers presents readers with a fiction-like narrative of one family's struggle through the aftereffects of Hurricane Katrina in his book Zeitoun. This retelling of history does not mirror the typical format of nonfiction in which dates are thrown around, facts are stated, and narrative is peppered into the gaps. Egger’s, instead, disguises the raw facts with imagery, narrative, and mystery. The opening line, “On moonless nights the men and boys of Jableh, a dusty fishing town on the coast of Syria, would gather their lanterns and set out in their quietest boats” (3) is a perfect example. The story of the Zeitoun family starts off in Syria, the home of an ordinary man named Abdulrahman. What makes this nonfiction novel intriguing is Egger’s decision to focus on the character of the protagonist and not the disaster itself. The narrative, dialogue, and facts are rich enough that the overall physical damage is understood. Before the storm hits the coast, Eggers starts off at a slower pace. He takes time to set up the background knowledge needed to understand the characters themselves. Significant time is spent getting to know Zeitoun himself, his childhood, his faith, his journey to the United States, his struggle to make a living as a Syrian man, and his wife and kids. We learn about Zeitoun’s incurable love for the water and boats as a child in Syria, his union with his headstrong wife Kathy, and his popular construction business in New Orleans. The calm before the storm is the foundation in which Eggers builds the rest of the narrative. This foundation is slowly built upon as the storm approaches and anxiety starts to set in. From this point on the narrative plows ahead just like a hurricane plows through anything in its path.
“The dissonance woke him” (81). With these four words Eggers sends this story into slow tailspin. First we see the physical destruction of Katrina’s wrath through the streets of New Orleans with abandoned dogs, stranded people, disappearing houses, and the chaos of panic. Then suddenly the metaphorical plane crashes and we witness psychological and cultural damage. Eggers times the second part of the narrative perfectly by first setting up the details of Zeitoun’s heroic response and sense of purpose amidst the vast damage. The displays of Zeitoun’s good intentions are of the upmost importance because they are later contrasted with the man Zeitoun is portrayed to be on the outside. This nonfiction novel suddenly turns into a sort of exposé of the behind the scenes actions of FEMA and the United States government. Taken out of his house by force, Zeitoun is suddenly forced to suffer because of his appearance. At this point this story could have easily turned into a tell-all about the abuse of power and ignorance of a nation. But instead of explicitly pointing fingers and placing blame, the injustices that Zeitoun is forced to endure are all made clear through his thoughts, regrets, and frustrations. Through Zeitoun himself and the sense of fear that his wife, Kathy, and their kids feel, we the readers get the effects of the humiliation and dread felt.
Overall, Eggers offers readers with an account of one family who is ultimately broken by a, “country’s blind, grasping fight against threats seen and unseen…” (263). With colorful imagery, flashbacks, touching dialogue, descriptions of steadfast faith, and heartbreaking disappointment, Dave Eggers presents Zeitoun: the story of building and keeping faith no matter the circumstance.