Zeitoun Study Guide

Zeitoun is a nonfiction account of Abdulrahman Zeitoun's heroism and subsequent arrest in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina's devastation of New Orleans, LA in 2005. Zeitoun, a Syrian immigrant and American citizen, chooses to ride out the storm in order to protect his house. A contractor by trade and a devout Muslim, Zeitoun believes he will be able to serve both his community and God by patrolling the drowned city in his canoe. However, his good works are punished by an unjust prison term in a city overtaken by martial law.

An interview conducted with Zeitoun before his arrest was repeatedly televised, and The New Orleans Times-Picayune ran a long interview with him in November 2005, following his ordeal. His story also appeared in Voices from the Storm, a collection of interviews with victims of Hurricane Katrina published by Dave Egger's publishing house McSweeney's. Eggers was struck by the singularity and improbability of Zeitoun's story.

In writing the creative nonfiction account of Zeitoun, Eggers' embarked on a three-year research process. He visited locations described in the book, from Zeitoun's native Syria to his brother's home in Spain, as well as the infamous Hunt Correctional Facility where Zeitoun was imprisoned. He also spent time at the Zeitoun home, engaging in formal interviews and observing their daily lives.

McSweeney's published Zeitoun in 2009 to widespread critical acclaim. Many critics noted the lack of "writerly triple-lutzes and winks of postmodern irony" (Egan, The New Yorker) and indeed Eggers' restrained style is a departure from his earlier, more stylized work. The proceeds from the sale of Zeitoun are donated to the Zeitoun Foundation that administers to charities of Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun's choosing. The book is currently being adapted into an animated film to be directed by Jonathan Demme and released in 2014 (Itzkoff).