Zeitoun Summary and Analysis

Part III: Wednesday, September 7--Monday, September 19

Buy Study Guide

Summary

When Zeitoun does not call on Wednesday as promised, Kathy immediately becomes anxious. She speaks to several family friends, but no one has heard from Zeitoun. The following day, Kathy is frantic and Ahmad takes charge of the situation from Spain, contacting the Coast Guard and organizations that track missing persons. However, his English is poor and sometimes complicates the matter. The overwhelmed relief groups do not provide any leads.

Over the next few days, Kathy tries to put on a brave face for both her children and Zeitoun’s relatives in Syria. She lies and tells them that she has heard from her husband, delaying the inevitable panic. Meanwhile, she files Zeitoun’s information with the missing-persons division of the Red Cross. Finally, her children’s suspicions are aroused. Aisha, the youngest, becomes so upset that her hair begins to fall out.

In order to give the girls a sense of routine and, therefore, a semblance of normalcy, Kathy enrolls them in school in Phoenix. She also contacts Todd Gambino’s girlfriend, who lost touch with Todd on the same day Kathy lost touch with Zeitoun. Meanwhile, Ahmad considers flying to New Orleans to look for Zeitoun himself.

Kathy begins to think about what she will do if it turns out that Zeitoun is dead. She feels that moving to Phoenix and effectively joining Yuko’s family would be an imposition. She begins to contemplate moving to Jableh with her children, which she visited several years before with Zeitoun. She had found Syria charming and surprisingly modern, and loved Zeitoun’s extended family. She begins to think that Syria would be a better option for her daughters than living in Phoenix, estranged from all relatives.

Kathy turns to the Internet for news from New Orleans, but can only find sensational—and often contradictory—rumors. When she reads that Israeli and American mercenaries have been hired to help secure the city, she concludes that they must have shot Zeitoun because he is an Arab.

She remembers when the family went to visit Ahmad in Málaga. While on a stroll on the beach with Kathy and Safiya, Zeitoun spots a rock in the distance and suggests the family walk to it. He leads them for miles on a journey that lasts hours. Kathy becomes exasperated by his dogged determination. But his enthusiasm and sense of adventure is infectious. Kathy touches the rock at his insistence, and the trip becomes a cherished memory.

After two weeks of fretting, Kathy resolves to return to New Orleans and find out what happened to Zeitoun; even finding his corpse would be better than her excruciating uncertainty. However, her plans are foiled when the city is closed again in preparation for another storm - Hurricane Rita. After weeks of worry, Kathy receives a mysterious phone call from a missionary who does not reveal his identity. He tells Kathy that Zeitoun is alive, and in prison. Kathy is overjoyed, but is unable to get any more information from the man.

Analysis

In its content and its literary technique, Part III disrupts and upends the expectations established by the previous two sections of the book. Part II in particular is heavily stylized, featuring poetic descriptions of the havoc wrought by the hurricane combined with surreal imagery and frequent “cross-cutting” between Zeitoun’s work in New Orleans and Kathy’s time in Phoenix.

Although it is tempting to compare Part II of Zeitoun with Eggers’ similarly lyrical memoir, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, there is an important difference between the two works. In Zeitoun, Eggers does not focus on technique for its own sake, but rather subordinates it to most effectively tell the story of the protagonist and his family.

This reading helps to explain the radical shift in style that is evident in Part III. The most obvious deviation from the two previous parts is its relatively short length—only 29 pages to the 78 and 85 pages of Parts I and II, respectively. By separating Kathy’s ordeal from the rest of the story so dramatically, Eggers represents her isolation visually in the appearance of the text. This is also the only section of the book related entirely from one character’s point of view. By withholding all information about Zeitoun’s whereabouts, Eggers recreates the uncertainty and loneliness that Kathy experienced.

In this section, Eggers describes another kind of conversion experience, one that parallels Kathy’s conversion to Islam as described in Part I. When Kathy, Zeitoun, and the children visit his family in Syria, she realizes that she had indulged in “an antique idea of Syria” (192). Despite her efforts to learn about the country, her marriage to a Syrian, and her conversion to Islam, she still subscribed to an Orientalist fantasy of what the Middle East was actually like. Her revelation that urban Syria is just as modern as New Orleans is reminiscent of other incidents in the text in which well-intended individuals nevertheless subscribe to false ideas or prejudices.

Because of this, Zeitoun’s dogmatic insistence on hiking to the rock in Málaga can be read as heroic. No one in Zeitoun is entirely free of ideology or dogma, but Zeitoun dedicates himself to an almost pure pursuit of knowledge, always wanting to see things with his own eyes, be they distant countries, his devastated home city, or simply a boulder on the beach. Zeitoun's determination to seek truth and positive human experience can be considered a means by which those with preconceived notions can transcend the ignorance that Eggers suggests inhabits all lazy minds, regardless of their owners’ morality or lack thereof.