Zeitoun Summary and Analysis of Part II: Tuesday, August 30––Thursday, September 1


Although the water seemed to have receded on Monday night, Zeitoun wakes the next day to find the backyard flooded. As the flood is clear and clean, he immediately realizes that this is lake water; the levees have broken and the entire city will soon be submerged. He calls Kathy and begins to move the family’s valuables to the upper floors of their house, watching as three, then six, feet of water fill his living room. By evening, the Zeitoun home is under nine feet of water, and he realizes they will have no choice but to gut the building and rebuild. Full recovery for the city will take years. He speaks briefly to Kathy but realizes his phone will soon run out of battery and he will not be able to recharge it as the power box is submerged.

In Baton Rouge, tensions build between Kathy and her sisters. They berate her for leaving the house and refuse to harbor Adnan and Abeer, friends of Kathy and Zeitoun who are stuck in Baton Rouge without shelter. Meanwhile, Zeitoun finds an old picture of his brother, Mohammed, a long-distance swimmer who died in a car accident at 24. That night, he sleeps in a tent on the roof of his house because it is too hot indoors.

On Wednesday morning, the entire city is flooded. Zeitoun takes out the canoe again, hoping to “be an explorer ... see things first”. (95) He contemplates the vast economic and human costs of the flood. As he continues down the street, he passes one of his clients, Frank Noland, and brings him along to check on his rental properties. On their way, they encounter several elderly people who are trapped in their houses, in need of assistance.

Zeitoun and Frank hear weak cries and paddle to a flooded home. One elderly woman, overweight and weak, needs help. She has taken refuge on the stairwell of her completely flooded home and is unable to swim to safety. Zeitoun and Frank try to flag down military fan boats, but they are ignored. Zeitoun realizes that the loud fans make it impossible for the soldiers to hear people in trouble. They finally find two civilians in a fishing boat who agree to help, and with ingenuity and exertion, they manage to lift the woman into the boat. The men in the fishing boat promise to deliver her and four other rescued people to a makeshift hospital. Zeitoun and Frank leave in the canoe.

Kathy hears on the news that 21,000 National Guard troops have been sent to New Orleans to maintain order. She becomes frantic with worry about Zeitoun and resolves to convince him to leave the city once and for all. Meanwhile, Zeitoun arrives at his rental property to find tenant Todd Gambino, a mechanic in his 30s, who has stayed behind. Both men are incredulous to find one another. Zeitoun assesses the damage, and it is less severe than anticipated. Best of all, the landline still works. He phones Kathy at once. She begs him to evacuate but he still insists on watching over property and neighbors. He also wants to bear witness to the disaster. She acquiesces but continues to worry, especially after seeing news reports of violent gangs roaming the city.

Zeitoun returns to his house, eats dinner, and says his prayers. He feels proud and fulfilled after a day helping those in need, and believes that his decision to stay in New Orleans was God’s will. He thinks again about his brother Mohammed’s passion for long-distance swimming, and his stunning success as a young man. Because of Mohammed’s fame and glory, the other Zeitouns sought to make themselves just as extraordinary and successful.

It occurs to Kathy that New Orleans will be uninhabitable for several weeks. She cannot stay in the crowded house in Baton Rouge with her sisters for so long, so she drives to Phoenix to stay with Yuko. On the way, she calls the rental property on Claiborne to tell Zeitoun where she is going. A strange American answers the phone and hangs up without telling Kathy who he is or what he is doing there.

Zeitoun hears the desperate cries of dogs trapped in a neighbor's home. He brings them steak and water and tries to calm them. He calls Kathy in the late afternoon, calming her fears about the strange man in the house, and continues to deliver food and water to people who need it while avoiding the downtown area where it is rumored that civil disorder has taken hold.


In Part II of Zeitoun, Eggers turns his attention from characterization of the Zeitouns to a broader critique of American culture and the response to Hurricane Katrina. It becomes painfully clear that despite the Zeitouns’ efforts to adjust their lifestyles to Southern American culture, Americans do not make the same accommodations for them. Kathy’s mother continues to assume that Zeitoun forces Kathy to wear the hijab, and gently encourages her to “be yourself” (106) and take it off. Similarly, Zeitoun’s friendly tenant, Todd, offers him a beer despite the strict prohibition of alcohol in Islam. Such incidents demonstrate that cultural insensitivity is so ingrained in American culture that even well-meaning Americans can commit unwitting faux pas.

There are also numerous portrayals of the inefficiency of the government’s response to Katrina. Zeitoun tries to explain to the helicopter pilots that he needs neither water nor rescue, but they ignore him and throw a case of water onto his house, which bursts and spills bottles everywhere. This vignette is symbolic of the broader inequalities in the American response, which were criticized heavily in the media after the hurricane. Little help was given in the neighborhoods that most needed it, while people who were in no danger received many resources and much attention.

Despite the flaws and insensitivity of many American characters, Part II is nevertheless an exaltation of the common man. Zeitoun and the young men he meets in the fishing boat are more effective in their volunteer efforts to help people than the military. In an evocative moment, Zeitoun reflects that the military’s fan boats are so loud that they will drown out cries for help that he can hear in his canoe. Eggers emphasizes individual heroism in the aftermath of the storm, while distancing the narrative from the looters and criminals running wild downtown - the reports of which may be inflated by the media.

The media continues to play an important role in this section; since Zeitoun cannot always call Kathy, she must rely on the news for updates on New Orleans, an outlet she deeply distrusts. Eggers suggests that the coverage of Katrina is “racially charged” and over-emphasizes the violence in the city, an assessment with which Zeitoun seems to agree himself.

As in Part I, there are numerous moments of synergy in this chapter, when Zeitoun and the narrator appear to have the same opinions about things happening in the story. More notable, though, are the increasingly common moments when the narrator seems to editorialize about events that Zeitoun views as insignificant, from Todd’s offer of beer to the danger of violence, which Zeitoun brushes off but the narrator takes seriously. The omniscience of the narrator reminds the reader that each story, fictitious or based on true events, has a primary perspective belonging to the author.