Unending Katrina: Dave Eggers’ Zeitoun

October 31, 2012

I never made it to the World Humanities Forum, a small story in a big storm.

New Orleans and New York: this is the tale of two cities that is now unfolding.   I wish I could say: only two, period.  Nothing after that.  Nothing greater than that number.

But it won’t happen that way.  There’s no intrinsic finality to the number two, no closure written into it.   (And in fact, already it’s more than two — Atlantic City, Jersey City, Hoboken, countless small towns on Long Island and the Jersey shore.)   Climate change and extreme weather do not work like a Dickens novel; symmetry and formal resolution mean nothing to them; they are unending, unstoppable.

Dave Eggers’s Zeitoun is not a Dickens novel either, and – in these bleak and uncertain times – I’m struck by how it too is unending.   Eggers had written the novel as tribute to Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a Muslim immigrant from Syria who had settled in the United States in 1988 and started a contracting business with his wife Kathy.  On September 14, 2005, when he was distributing supplies and ferrying stranded neighbors in a flooded New Orleans, he was arrested by a mixed group of National Guardsmen, local police, and out-of-state police, held prisoner for 23 days, with his papers and credit cards removed, and denied any contact with his family.

Eggers’ novel is meant to set it to rights.  It is meant to restore to Zeitoun the dignity and the rights that were violated.   The equation would have been  precarious and, in this case, it doesn’t entirely balance.  On August 9, 2012, the New York Times reported that Zeitoun was arrested again, this time on charges of domestic violence and soliciting murder.

A fearful spiral, like Katrina to Sandy.


About wcd2

Professor of English and American Studies
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