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Eggers devotes significant space to describing Kathy’s conversion to Islam.
It is notable that she leaves one deeply religious culture to move directly into another. It is clear that she values Islam not simply for its theology (in fact, she emphasizes its similarities to Christian theology over its differences), but also because of the culture. A faithful woman, Kathy was disheartened by the evangelical church she attended during a period of soul-searching following her divorce. She approached the culture around the church with distaste, reacting negatively to the materialism and bigotry she was subjected to. Kathy ultimately embraces Islam because of its values and bent towards social justice, attracted to the culture of decency she felt lacking in her own life. The religious conversion is also a cultural conversion. This exploration into Kathy's faith, especially with the attention paid to similarities between Christianity and Islam, serves one of the overall themes of the book - Islamophobia. It offers a Western point of view to an predominately Eastern faith devoid of the sensationalism usually trumped up by the media. Zeitoun can be viewed as a tale of tolerance.
In this section, Zeitoun is portrayed as extraordinarily helpful and altruistic, offering to help Adnan lock up his restaurants, and encouraging his workers to leave town while he secures the job sites himself. By dwelling on these details, Eggers establishes Zeitoun’s strength of character early on, lending extra credibility to the man’s unusual heroism after Katrina wreaks its full damage—a heroism that might otherwise seem exaggerated, given its magnitude and how few people behaved similarly in the aftermath of the hurricane.
The flashbacks in this section become increasingly idyllic. There are long interludes describing Zeitoun’s storybook childhood on Arwad Island. Even Kathy’s gritty upbringing is rendered with some nostalgia, with Eggers focusing on the love she found at Yuko’s house rather than the neglect she faced at her own. There is stark contrast between the family’s former happiness and the ominous scenes in which Zeitoun prepares for Katrina. Indeed, their separation during the disaster is the source of more dread than the disaster itself—a fact that foreshadows the difficulties they will have as they try to reunite.