Zeitoun Summary and Analysis of Part IV: Tuesday, September 6--Thursday, September 29


The narrative doubles back to September 6, when Zeitoun is at the house on Claiborne with Nasser and Ronnie. The armed men who burst in (who are, in fact, six men and one woman) seem to be law enforcement officers, and they promptly arrest everyone in the house as well as Todd Gambino, who arrives just as they are about to leave with the prisoners. Initially, the men think they are being forcibly evacuated as Mayor Nagin recently ordered all those in New Orleans to leave, but it becomes clear that their situation is more dire when they are detained at a bus station converted to a makeshift prison.

At the bus station, Todd is taken aside and interrogated first. Zeitoun overhears that they are suspected of being members of al Qaeda. He is horrified because he has always feared being targeted by law enforcement because of his Arab lineage, and now it seems that his worst nightmares are coming true. Nasser is questioned next, and the soldiers find $10,000 in cash in his duffel bag. They also discover that Todd was carrying $2,400, MapQuest printouts, and a memory card for a digital camera. He has innocent reasons for carrying these belongings, but the items nevertheless make the soldiers even more suspicious of the men.

Without being read his rights or accused of a crime, Zeitoun is taken into a utility closet, where he is forced to strip naked and allow a soldier to search his rectum for contraband items. He is locked with the other three men in an outdoor cell, which remind Zeitoun of the images he’s seen of Guantánamo Bay. The cell is crowded and has no furniture, only a filthy cement floor. The men are served pork ribs for dinner, which Nasser and Zeitoun cannot eat. Although Nasser and Zeitoun do not have water to perform the necessary ablutions before praying, they do so anyway, using gravel for symbolic ablutions to cleanse themselves. The men must sleep on the ground, each taking a turn leaning on a pole in the middle of the cell.

The men begin to distrust their captors. They see a guard bribe a prisoner to speak well of the prison to a Spanish television crew. A lighthearted prisoner named Jerry, who says he was arrested for siphoning gas, is put into the cell with Zeitoun, Nasser, Ronnie, and Todd. Jerry begins to complain about President George W. Bush and the American government; although Todd commiserates with him, Zeitoun and Nasser are deeply suspicious of their new companion. Later, the men witness a mentally disabled prisoner being sprayed in the face with pepper spray.

Zeitoun, suffering from an infected splinter in his foot, requests a doctor but his pleas are ignored. He eventually lances the infection and removes the splinter using a shard of glass from a bottle Tabasco sauce from his MRE. Soon after, he begins to suffer from kidney pain. On Friday, September 9, Zeitoun and most of the other prisoners are transferred to Elayn Hunt Correctional Center, a maximum-security prison in St. Gabriel. There, Zeitoun and Nasser are separated from Todd and Ronnie and held in the highest-security unit.

Zeitoun continues to beg for a phone call, knowing that Kathy will obtain a lawyer and begin the process of his release if he can just speak to her. However, the staff of the prison explain that he is not being held under FEMA's jurisdiction and therefore the prison’s standard operating rules do not apply to him. One of the guards enrages Zeitoun by insinuating that he is having sex with Nasser, his cellmate.

Four more prisoners, all African-American, are added to Zeitoun and Nasser’s cell for one night. Each says he was arrested for looting while engaging in ordinary activities. Zeitoun requests medical attention for his kidney and remembers his time as a sailor. After being torpedoed by an Iranian submarine, Zeitoun decided to quit sailing and settle in America.

After being separated from Nasser and placed in his own cell, Zeitoun begins to despair that he will never be released. He is routinely strip-searched. In all of this time, he has not been formally charged with a crime and is still being denied a phone call. He begins to think that this ordeal is partially his fault for staying in New Orleans, for believing that an Arab would be able to survive martial law in the United States. He also thinks that hubris may be to blame; he believed he was on a mission from God but the good works took him away from his family, where his true priorities lie. One day, a Christian missionary visits Zeitoun’s cell. Although it is against the rules, the missionary agrees to notify Kathy of Zeitoun’s whereabouts. The next day, Zeitoun is questioned by agents from the Department of Homeland Security. They do not ask any questions about terrorism, and Zeitoun is struck by how friendly they are. They also agree to call Kathy for him.

In Phoenix, Kathy is overjoyed to hear from first the missionary and then from the Department of Homeland Security. In the second phone call, she learns that they are dropping the charges against Zeitoun. However, when she calls Hunt Correctional Center, they say they have no record of Zeitoun. Ahmad is concerned that Zeitoun will not be released from prison, so Kathy goes to New Orleans to meet with her lawyer, Raleigh Ohlmeyer.

Meanwhile, Zeitoun is unsure if either the missionary or the Homeland Security agents actually called Kathy. His bail is set at $75,000. A court date is also set, but Kathy cannot find the location of the hearing which, she is told, is “private information” (280). Nevertheless, she starts calling friends to act as character witnesses at Zeitoun’s hearing, and calls CNN to tell them her story. Eventually, she is able to get Zeitoun released on bail by putting up their office building as collateral. Ahmad is finally able to speak to his brother by telephone, ending his doubts and worry.


Many of Eggers’s cultural and political critiques come to a head in Part IV. Eggers frequently criticizes the unfair assumptions that are made about African-Americans, particularly African-American men, as a footnote to his critique of prejudice against Americans of Middle Eastern descent. In Part IV, he always specifies the race of African-American prisoners. Although he does not explicitly suggest that Zeitoun’s cellmates were wrongfully imprisoned because of their race, he insinuates the same by dwelling on their backstories. The criticism that law enforcement in New Orleans made racially-motivated arrests in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina was common in the media in the days and months following the storm.

Although the majority of Part IV is related from Zeitoun’s perspective, Eggers reverts to his narrative ‘cross-cutting’ in the second half of the section, alternating Zeitoun’s experiences with those of Kathy. His shift to the narrative structure used in Part I and II reflects the return to normalcy after Zeitoun’s whereabouts are made public. It is also important that the narrative covering Zeitoun's days in prison - until the date of the phone call to Kathy - are strictly limited to his own perspective. As in Part III, this enhances the sense of isolation and replicates the hopelessness of Zeitoun's own experience.

This may reflect the difficulty of fact-checking the events in the prison, but it also serves to focus the narrative entirely on Zeitoun’s experiences, rather than broadening it to a critique of the treatment of prisoners more generally. For example, we never learn what happened to the African-American cellmates after they are removed from Zeitoun’s cell, nor do we hear anything more about Nasser after he is separated from Zeitoun. The reader is left with a sense of bewilderment that Zeitoun must have felt himself.

At several points in this section, Eggers repeats incidents from Parts II and III. These include Zeitoun’s shower in the house on Claiborne, and Kathy hearing from the missionary that Zeitoun is being held at Hunt. In both cases, the repetition of these incidents serves to heighten their dramatic content and add a layer of meaning to the events that was not present in their first iteration. This style of storytelling helps to deliver suspense.

At the beginning of Part IV, Eggers renders the moments leading up to Zeitoun’s arrest in greater detail than he did at the end of Part II. Most of this new detail is focused on Zeitoun’s thought processes and sensory experiences. By emphasizing the small sensory pleasures of the shower, Eggers heightens the contrast between freedom—even in a city under martial law—and incarceration. It also focuses attention on the shamefulness of Zeitoun’s imprisonment, since he is initially unsure whether he is being threatened by looters or by police. In some ways, the repetition of Kathy’s phone call has the opposite effect. While the first iteration of this scene, at the end of Part III, emphasizes her emotions in the moment, the version presented in Part IV focuses on the experiences of those around her, including Yuko and Ahmad. It is a more restrained, distant recounting of the situation, one that answers questions about the logistics of freeing Zeitoun and the broader repercussions of his incarceration.