The Reading Committee chose Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers for the First Pages Program.
About the Book
Through the story of one man’s experience after Hurricane Katrina, Eggers draws an indelible picture of Bush-era crisis management. Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a successful Syrian-born painting contractor, decides to stay in New Orleans and protect his property while his family flees. After the levees break, he uses a small canoe to rescue people, before being arrested by an armed squad and swept powerlessly into a vortex of bureaucratic brutality. When a guard accuses him of being a member of Al Qaeda, he sees that race and culture may explain his predicament.
Eggers, compiling his account from interviews, sensibly resists rhetorical grandstanding, letting injustices speak for themselves. His skill is most evident in how closely he involves the reader in Zeitoun’s thoughts. Thrown into one of a series of wire cages, Zeitoun speculates, with a contractor’s practicality, that construction of his prison must have begun within a day or so of the hurricane.
About the Author
Eggers was born in Boston, Massachusetts, one of four siblings. When Eggers was still a child, the family moved to the upscale suburb of Lake Forest, near Chicago. He attended high school there. Eggers later attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, intending to get a degree in journalism, but his studies were interrupted by the deaths of both of his parents. Both were in their 50s.
These events were chronicled in his first book, the lightly fictionalized A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. At the time, Eggers was 21, and his younger brother, Christopher, was 8 years old. The two eldest siblings, Bill and Beth, were unable to commit to care for Christopher. As a result, Dave Eggers took the responsibility.
He left the University of Illinois and moved to Berkeley, California, with his girlfriend and his brother. They initially moved in with Eggers’s sister, Beth, and her roommate, but eventually found a place in another part of town, which they paid for with money left to them by their parents. Christopher attended a small private school, and Eggers did temp work and freelance graphic design for a local newspaper. Eventually, with his friend David Moodie, he took over a local free newspaper calledCups. This gradually evolved into the satirical magazine Might.