The story is told primarily from the perspective of its protagonist, Abdulrahman Zeitoun--who simply goes by "Zeitoun." In 2005, Zeitoun is 47 and a successful painting contractor who runs his own business. A native of Syria, Zeitoun remains close with his family and a devout Muslim despite the fact that he has settled in New Orleans, Louisiana. Zeitoun is hard-working, stubborn and committed to both his family and community.
Zeitoun's American wife. A native of Baton Rouge, Kathy converted to Islam before meeting Zeitoun. She is strong-willed, loving and fiercely protective of her family and faith.
Ahmad is Zeitoun's older brother with whom he has the closest relationship. He acted as a role model for the young Zeitoun, teaching him how to do fish and eventually inspiring him to become follow in their father's footsteps and become a sailor. Ahmad works as a ship captain and lives with his family in Málaga, Spain. He enjoys all types of technology. Not to be confused with Zeitoun's baby son, who is born at the end of the novel and is also named Ahmad - in tribute to his uncle.
Zeitoun's clever and high-spirited eldest daughter. She is ten years old in 2005.
Zeitoun's middle daughter, who is seven years old during Hurricane Katrina.
Zeitoun's youngest child during the period covered in the book. She is five years old in 2005, and is the most dramatically effected by her father's imprisonment.
Kathy's son from her first marriage, who is fifteen at the beginning of the book.
Zeitoun's strict but loving father. Like Zeitoun, Mahmoud is protective of his family, forbidding them to live on the sea after a string of near-death experiences during his career as a sailor. Despite his best efforts, Mahmoud ends up moving his family near the shore in Syria and most of his children have relationships with the water throughout their lives.
Nicaraguan painter and carpenter who works for Zeitoun. Always works as a team with Marco.
Salvadoran painter who works for Zeitoun with his friend Emil.
A sixty-year-old Bulgarian carpenter who works for Zeitoun. He is talkative but an excellent worker.
One of Zeitoun’s first bosses in New Orleans. Charlie recognizes Zeitoun’s strong work ethic and quickly promotes him.
One of the Zeitouns’ closest friends and most loyal clients. He has been married to his husband, Walt, for fifteen years and they have known the Zeitoun for eight.
Rob Stanislaw’s stubborn husband and a good friend of the Zeitouns.
A Lebanese-American, Ahmaad was the first friend Zeitoun made in the United States. He also introduced Zeitoun to his future wife, Kathy.
Ahmaad’s wife, Yuko is an American of Japanese descent who converted to Islam. She was Kathy's closest friend in childhood, and shelters Kathy and the children in the aftermath of the hurricane.
One of Zeitoun’s older brothers, Mohammed was a champion ocean swimmer whose prowess made him a legend in Syria and the world in the 1960s. His death at the age of 24 (car accident) left an indelible mark of sorrow on the Zeitoun family. Zeitoun viewed Mohammed as a role model, and inherited his love of adventure and spirit.
One of Kathy's close friends.
The Zeitouns' dog.
Yuko’s kindly mother, who frequently hosted Kathy when she and Yuko were young girls.
A carpenter who works for Zeitoun and stays in New Orleans after the voluntary evacuation.
Ray Nagin was the mayor of New Orleans in 2005. He became a well-known and polarizing political figure due to his response to Hurricane Katrina.
Kathy’s sister, with whom she stays in their brother Andy’s house during the storm.
Mary Ann Delphine
Kathy’s vindictive and possibly racist sister, with whom she stays during the storm.
Zeitoun’s second cousin, who lives in New Orleans and owns four Subway franchises.
Adnan’s pregnant wife.
A mechanic who lives in Zeitoun’s property on Claiborne.
A friendly client of Zeitoun’s painting business who stayed in New Orleans during the hurricane.
An easygoing carpenter and friend of Zeitoun who stays in New Orleans during the hurricane.
One of Yuko’s friends in Phoenix, Miss Mary is another American who converted to Islam. She has a big house and shelters many refugees from New Orleans.
A professor of computer science at Tulane who runs the Muslim student association there. He is a longtime friend of the Zeitouns.
A Syrian friend of Zeitoun who moved to New Orleans in 1995 after receiving political asylum for unknown reasons.
A large young man who sneaks into Zeitoun’s property on Claiborne to use the phone. Sensing Ronnie is no threat, Zeitoun allows him to stay. Ronnie is ultimately imprisoned along with Zeitoun, Nasser, and Todd.
An American who is put in Zeitoun's cell at Camp Greyhound. Zeitoun and Nasser suspect that he is a spy, attempting to get them to admit to terrorism.
A powerful and well-known lawyer from New Orleans who works with Kathy to help free Zeitoun.
A police officer from New Orleans who is named on Zeitoun’s arrest report.
A police officer from Albuquerque, New Mexico, who is named on Zeitoun’s arrest report. Because the Zeitouns cannot find Lima, they initially name only Gonzales in their civil lawsuit about Zeitoun’s incarceration.
Zeitoun and Kathy's first son, born in November, 2006.
A missionary delivering bibles to prisoners is persuaded by Zeitoun's pleas of innocence and calls Kathy despite his concerns. Zeitoun never learns the man's name.
Kathleen Babineux Blanco is the governor of Louisiana during Hurricane Katrina. Like Ray Nagin, Blanco was blamed by some for the inadequate preparation and response to the destruction of the Hurricane.
The head of FEMA during Katrina. Brown came under attack for poor leadership after the failed response efforts of FEMA.
Zeitoun Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Zeitoun is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
I believe the author's purpose in writing this account was to expose the atrocities that resulted from the disaster and point out the distortions and racism of those reporting what happened in the aftermath.
Although it turns out that the police who arrest Zeitoun are not actually racist, Eggers makes it clear that Islamophobia influenced Zeitoun's experiences during Katrina (as well as the family's life before). While in prison, Zeitoun is accused of...