Zeitoun Summary and Study Guide

Dave Eggers

Zeitoun

  • 40-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 15 chapter summaries and 6 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a literary scholar with a Master's degree in English Literature
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Zeitoun Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature.  This 40-page guide for “Zeitoun” by Dave Eggers includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 15 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Bearing Witness and Islamophobia.

Plot Summary

Zeitoun is a nonfiction narrative recounting the trials and ordeals of the Zeitoun family during Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. Abdulrahman Zeitoun is a Syrian American who has built a successful business in New Orleans. With his wife, Kathy, an American who converted to Islam as an adult, and their children, Zeitoun feels a strong connection to his adopted city and country. He’s proud to be a builder and to help restore New Orleans in whatever way he can. His company, Zeitoun Painting Contractor LLC, has jobsites all over the city, and while Kathy takes care of logistics, Zeitoun is often out in the field helping his workers with projects. It’s the price of their success, this constant dedication, always looking out for their clients as well as the properties they rent out to tenants. Given all of the responsibility, Zeitoun never really wants to leave the city. There have been numerous storms before and Zeitoun has weathered them all. This new storm, called Katrina, will be no different. As it approaches, Zeitoun is sure it will be like all of the others, no real cause for alarm. As the hours and days pass, however, Katrina proves to be a storm unlike any the city has seen before. Kathy wants them all to flee the city, but Zeitoun is sure it will all be over without much of a fuss. Besides, they have a property business to run. He has to remain to assess the damage and try to minimize it if possible.

 

As Hurricane Katrina is designated a Category 5 and expected to hit New Orleans, Mayor Nagin orders the first ever mandatory evacuation of the city. Kathy decides to take the kids and flee to her family’s home in Baton Rouge. Zeitoun, however, will not evacuate. And so the family separates right before Katrina hits: Zeitoun, doubting the hurricane’s fury, stays behind; and Kathy, leaves with the children, hoping that Zeitoun will be alright on his own. Neither expects to be away from the other for too long, and Kathy plans on returning in a day or two to get back to their busy lives.

When Hurricane Katrina hits, however, everything changes. Initially thinking the worst is over, Zeitoun goes to sleep and awakens to find that the city is flooding. The levees must have broken, and if this is the case, the entire city will soon be underwater. He sets about securing what he can and waiting to see what follows. After losing contact with Zeitoun due to power outages, Kathy can only see what’s being reported about the disaster. The images are grim and bleak, and she worries for her husband’s safety in the city. Zeitoun, however, is inspired. He bought a canoe a while back and, now that the city is flooded, he puts it to good use, paddling around and helping to rescue people and feed abandoned dogs. He feels he’s making a difference, that God wants him to be in New Orleans to make a difference in people’s lives. Besides, he’s in Uptown, far away from the perils of downtown, where most of the looting and violence is reported to be taking place.

Through a series of adventures, Zeitoun meets others who have decided to stay behind in the city, and many people who, like Zeitoun, are trying to help out in whatever way they can.

Good deeds are not always recognized as such. While at one of his rental properties with friends, Zeitoun is arrested and taken to a makeshift prison. Though angered by this rough treatment, he expects that once he gets a phone call to Kathy, everything will be set right. What follows is a sad indictment of America’s justice system in the days following Hurricane Katrina. The well-documented failures of FEMA, rampant paranoia, the breakdown of race relations, and religious intolerance, all come into play as Zeitoun is shuffled around like a criminal, stripped of his rights and his humanity, and forced to come to terms with the fact that his wife and children may never see or hear from him again.

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Chapters 1-3