Zeitoun Summary and Analysis of Part II: Friday, September 2––Tuesday, September 6


On Friday morning, Zeitoun decides to paddle his canoe to check out his office building. He doubles back, however, when he sees a group of men, some armed, looting a nearby Shell gas station. By now, the floodwater has become contaminated with detritus, old food, and dead animals. Several family friends ask Zeitoun to check on their property, which he is happy to do, although his brother Ahmad continues to urge him to leave the city.

Zeitoun goes to Tulane University to check on the Muslim student center, which is run by one of his friends. There he encounters Nasser Dayoob, a Syrian friend who keeps shelter in the student center because it is on high ground. Nasser joins Zeitoun as they travel back to the latter’s home on Dart Street. On their way, they encounter an elderly couple, Alvin and Beulah Williams, who need help evacuating their home. Zeitoun and Nasser try to get the soldiers posted throughout the city to help, but the first group they ask refuses, and the second group promises to come help in an hour but does not show up. Meanwhile, Kathy hears on the radio that still more soldiers are being sent to New Orleans.

When he realizes that the soldiers he sent did not show up to evacuate Alvin and Beulah, Zeitoun is furious. In a lucky coincidence, he runs into Todd Gambino, who has commandeered an abandoned motorboat and is using it to help evacuate people. Zeitoun directs Todd to the Williams’ house, and thinks to himself that Todd, previously a playboy and a drinker, has become a better person because of the disaster.

That night, Zeitoun looks at a collection of photos of Ahmad, mostly taken during his youth as a sailor. As a teenager, Zeitoun was so consumed by wanderlust and jealousy of the freedoms of his older brother that his mother arranged for him to become a sailor, despite the dangers his father experienced in his own career on the sea.

On Saturday morning, Zeitoun realizes that the remaining meat in his freezer will rot soon, so he feeds the trapped dogs across the street and plans to have a feast that evening with Nasser and Todd. He and Nasser patrol their neighborhood in the canoe once more, in search of people who need help. They pass a floating body. A news helicopter passes overhead, but only photographs the body rather than offering assistance.

After dinner that night, Zeitoun, Nasser, and Todd spot a fire burning in the distance near Zeitoun’s office. They head over to check on it in Todd’s motorboat. Although Zeitoun’s office is safe, five or six houses have caught on fire. With no authorities near, the men watch the conflagration helplessly. To Zeitoun, the series of disasters—first flood, then fire—evoke the story of Noah’s ark. He remembers a time in his sailing days when he entered into a debate about the existence of God with his captain. To win the argument, Zeitoun compared God to a ship captain ferrying humans through the dangerous seas.

On Sunday, Nasser leaves the home on Dart Street to stay with Todd Gambino. Alone, Zeitoun has a number of bizarre encounters, including a group of horses grazing in the middle of a traffic intersection, and a prostitute—already back to work—who asks for a lift to her next appointment. After seeing a cluster of dead dogs that had been shot in the head, Zeitoun is disturbed and goes home to read the Qur’an for the rest of the day. The next day, he goes to check on Rob and Walt’s house while becoming ever more fearful of violence.

On Tuesday morning, Nasser decides to evacuate but cannot because the rescue helicopter has crashed at the evacuation site. Zeitoun hopes to evacuate soon too, since there are fewer people left that still need help and New Orleans is becoming more dangerous and polluted each day. When he speaks to Kathy, he insists she concentrate on putting the children into school in Phoenix. His mind is still on his children's future. He goes out in the canoe on his own for a while, and comes across a television crew reporting on New Orleans. They interview Zeitoun, who details his works and deeds in the aftermath of the storm. As he paddles back to the apartment, he hopes that his siblings will be able to see the report and know he is trying to make a difference.

At the property on Claiborne, he and Nasser meet Ronnie, a man who has been breaking in to use the phone and is presumably the strange man who answered when Kathy called. Zeitoun, Nasser, and Ronnie all use the phones and take showers. As Zeitoun hangs up after updating Kathy, a band of armed men burst through the door.


The latter half of Part II marks a distinct shift in tone from the beginning of the book. Eggers’ descriptions of the waterlogged city become more ominous: he refers to “angry horizontal rain” (132) and describes the increasingly contaminated water in great detail. This foreshadows the dark turn that Zeitoun’s story—which begins as a heartwarming tale of heroism in an emergency—will take after he is imprisoned. The contamination of the water symbolizes the poison that is slowly taking over the city, as violence, mob rule and unreliable authority figures replace the altruism of people like Zeitoun.

This stylistic strategy culminates in “Sunday, September 4,” when Zeitoun has a series of surreal and disturbing encounters. The first image is a beautiful one: a white horse grazing with its companions in the middle of an abandoned street. Similarly, the prostitute represents a perverse form of beauty; Zeitoun notices her sexy outfit before he realizes her profession. These vignettes stand in contrast to the episode in Zeitoun's canoe when he and Nasser come upon a body floating in the water. Hope begins to recede as the men in the helicopter do nothing other than photograph the deceased man.

Finally, when he sees the cluster of murdered dogs, the imagery becomes truly and unrelentingly grisly, and this is also the turning point at which Zeitoun begins to truly want to get out. The increasing unpleasantness of Zeitoun’s encounters reflects his entire experience of Hurricane Katrina. Initially, he was entranced by the odd beauty of the flooded city. When he realized the human cost of the catastrophe, he was still comforted by the fact that he could help. The dead dogs represent the end of this plot arc, with Zeitoun realizing that he no longer has any place in the newly lawless New Orleans.

In this section, Eggers adds another dimension to Zeitoun's faith (judgment) and how it dictates his life, and also how the human nature can alter in the face of trials. Zeitoun admits that he previously judged Todd Gambino for being a playboy and “a wanderer” (138), as well as his drinking and smoking, but he believes that “a time like this could change a man ... and [Zeitoun] was happy to see it happening here and now to Todd: a good man made better.” Although Zeitoun’s judgment is couched in praise—Todd was not bad before, but rather a good man with potential for growth—some readers who do not adhere to such strict personal rules may take issue with his somewhat negative opinion of what he deems nontraditional behavior. Zeitoun is portrayed, on the whole, as fair, tolerant and deeply empathetic. Especially in light of his acceptance of good friends Rob and Walt, a ay couple. There is a complexity to Zeitoun's faith, and he measures the deeds of others against his own set of values and morals - as do all people. But it is important to note that Zeitoun identifies the storm as the stimulus for Todd's change. Without a clear sense of order, Todd takes it upon himself to help others. This is a stark contrast to the soldiers who descend upon a ruin New Orleans and use their newfound power to their advantage. Zeitoun's realization that Todd emphasizes the capacity for human behavior to change when normal social conventions are removed.

Finally, it is worth noting the motif of photography that winds its way through this section. In addition to the reporters photographing the dead body, Eggers also includes Zeitoun’s interview with the television crew. Perhaps most importantly, photographs inspire extended flashbacks in which Zeitoun reflects on his youth with Ahmad. The inclusion of these photographs—at the exact location where they are mentioned in the text—is a subtle nod to the postmodern conceits in which Eggers indulges in his other work. They emphasize the veracity of the narrative even as Eggers’ lyrical descriptions assume an increasingly high-literary style.