Zeitoun Summary and Analysis of Part V: Fall 2008


It is autumn of 2008. Kathy is afflicted by memory loss that somewhat resembles Alzheimer’s disease. The Zeitouns have gutted and rebuilt their home on Dart Street, although their office could not be salvaged.

The narrative returns to 2005. After Zeitoun’s release from prison, the family moves to one of their rental apartments that survived the storm. When Kathy and Zeitoun first check on their house, Zeitoun is devastated––both by the condition of the house and by the fact that his neighbors’ dogs have starved to death while he was in prison. One day in December, FEMA contacted the Zeitouns to offer them a free trailer. However, they were unable to use the trailer because FEMA did not leave them a key, and installed it in such a way that it was unsafe to enter.

Kathy and Zeitoun buy the houses on either side of their home on Dart Street. They use one lot to build an addition to their house, and try to sell the other. However, the unusable FEMA trailer remains on the lot they are trying to sell. It is an eyesore and decreases the value of the property, so Kathy tries to convince FEMA to come pick it up. Her efforts are in vain, though, and it is only taken away in April 2007, after a scathing letter from Kathy concerning the trailer appears in The New Orleans Times-Picayune.

In addition to memory loss, Kathy begins to suffer stomach pain when she tries to eat. Her doctor diagnoses her with post-traumatic stress syndrome. In November of 2006, the Zeitouns welcome baby Ahmad into their lives, named after his uncle - Zeitoun's brother.

At the encouragement of their friends, the Zeitouns file a civil lawsuit, hoping for compensation for Zeitoun’s wrongful imprisonment. In their suit, they name Ralph Gonzales and Donald Lima, the police officers who arrested Zeitoun. Eggers uses a more journalistic mode as he recounts the officers’ perspectives on the debacle. Gonzales, a native of New Mexico, volunteered to help in New Orleans after the storm, and explains that Zeitoun, Nasser, and Ronnie were suspected of looting and dealing drugs. He had no idea of the conditions they would be kept in after their arrest. In contrast, Lima is portrayed more negatively; he openly admits to looting cigarettes, alcohol, and gasoline in the wake of the storm. Both of the officers agree that Zeitoun “should have gotten a phone call” (307).

It is revealed that before the hurricane, officials at FEMA had speculated that terrorists might take advantage of the attacks to sow chaos. Furthermore, they had suspected individuals rather than efforts by large organizations like al Qaeda. The narrator explains that the public (to say nothing of the Greyhound bus company) was astonished at the presence of Camp Greyhound, and it remains a local legend. He adds that the camp was built by prisoners from the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola.

Zeitoun and Kathy both exhibit symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Meanwhile, the lawsuit moves forward. They try to retrieve Zeitoun’s wallet, which was taken from him during his arrest, but they only get it back after much angry haranguing from Kathy.

Eggers details how Zeitoun and Kathy have changed as a result of their Katrina experience. Zeitoun is now more religious and works even harder than before, while Kathy suffers from numerous health problems, although she no longer feels as viscerally angry about the events. Todd and Nasser were held even longer than Zeitoun—for five and six months, respectively—and have not received any compensation for the imprisonment or for the cash that was taken from them when they were arrested.

Zeitoun’s neighborhood has changed dramatically since the hurricane; many of his friends and neighbors have moved away from New Orleans. However, he derives satisfaction from helping to rebuild the city through his contracting business. He has faith that his ordeal was a test, and that his city and his country can be rebuilt.


Although Part V is short, in encompasses several important changes in Eggers’ narrative register. He switches from a limited to an omniscient point of view to include information that the Zeitouns were not aware of, which presumably comes from his own research. In the sections relating the perspectives of Officers Gonzales and Lima, Eggers primarily uses direct quotations. This stands in stark contrast to his use of free indirect discourse to describe the thoughts of Kathy and Zeitoun. The quotations draw attention to Eggers’ role as a mediator between the police officers and the readers. They also mimic the style of “newspaper journalism,” focusing on objectivity rather than fluidity or stylistic beauty.

Much of the novel’s conclusion is devoted to describing the moral “lessons” that Zeitoun and Kathy (and by extension, the readers) have learned from the ordeal. Perhaps the most important of these is that “it takes only one person, one small act of stepping from the dark into the light.” (319) While this is a heartwarming sentiment, it contradicts Kathy’s earlier assessment that “the barrel itself was rotten” (307)—that the Zeitouns’ problems were the result of systemic corruption and ineptitude.

Zeitoun acknowledges the inherent contradiction between the novel’s critique of broad institutional corruption and its message that individuals can improve society. The narrator raises the question of whether the missionary who called Kathy was truly heroic, suggesting that this sort of action should be considered standard, not extraordinary.

This questioning of the missionary's hero status is another instance in which it is unclear whether the opinion comes from the narrator (i.e., Eggers) or from Kathy via free indirect discourse. Unlike the early moments of synergy between the narrator’s opinions and those of Zeitoun, there is the potential here for divergence between Kathy’s opinions and those of Eggers.

To the extent that Zeitoun has an unequivocal takeaway “message,” it is one extolling “the advantages of moving quietly, of listening carefully” (321). This first occurs to Zeitoun when he watches the National Guard’s fan boats bypass people in need of health because the soldiers aboard cannot hear their calls over the noise of the boat. However, the lesson is also applicable to interpersonal relationships in a time of war; many of the issues Zeitoun and Kathy face due to Islamophobia could be avoided if more people “listen[ed] carefully.”