When I was in grad school (my, that seems like a long time ago!), my emphasis was American Women’s Memoirs. Ever since then, I have been fascinated by nonfiction accounts of everything. Climbing Mt. Everest. Climbing K2. Being Adopted. Putting babies up for adoption. Bipolar disease. Drug addiction. Alcohol abuse. Sex addiction. Growing up poor. Growing up rich. You name it, I have either read it, or plan on reading it.
I am sure you remember August 2005. You remember it because Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the levees broke, and the city went under water. The next year, my sister and her husband moved to New Orleans, which was still trying to recover from the tragedy as well as it could.
How do these two things fit together, you ask? Zeitoun, by David Eggers.
Zeitoun is a moving account of how a family man, Abdulrahman Zeitoun, stayed behind during Hurricane Katrina while his wife and children fled. He stayed behind because, as many New Orleans natives thought, what’s a little Category 3 hurricane going to do? But when the levees broke, he decides to jump into his canoe and check things out. By staying, he was able to help many people get medical attention, food and water; he even helped neighbor’s abandoned dogs gets food and water. After a few days, two police officers see him in a home he owns, and arrests him and three other men, because “they were up to no good.” He spent a month in a maximum security prison, but now is free.
More than once this book brought me to tears. As I mentioned, I am a sucker for nonfiction narratives. But I am also a sucker for stories such as this one because it speaks to my heart, both in a good and bad way. Maybe I am getting more emotional in my old age, but to this day, stories of September 11th and Hurricane Katrina still get me crying. I think it is the helplessness of humanity in moments like those, and the amazing beauty that arises from people HELPING each other. Then in other parts of the story, I am brought to tears that humanity can be brought to such a destructive low, at the same time that others are helping. It truly is eye-opening that we are, as a whole, just a few horrible disasters away from mass anarchy. I appreciate stories like these, and it helps in this case that the author is an extremely talented writer. I love the way he describes the quietness of the otherwise loud and bustling city. How he describes the lack of authority, the lack of police, fire engines, sirens. And how he describes the quiet resolve of the people who are still there; their sadness that their city is being destroyed and there is nothing they can do about it. And how he describes the determination of a young family, just trying to survive in a chaotic situation.
What a moving story. It certainly isn’t a light beach read.
One of the first things I did was ask Steph, my sister, if she had read this book. She said she had, and that she really liked it. Then she texted me a few minutes later and said, “I see Zeitoun Painting signs everywhere now.”
And, as a little side note, dear readers, make sure you check back here on August 26th for a special surprise we bloggers have in store for you. You won’t want to miss it!!