The book follows Zeitoun, a Syrian immigrant who has made a life for himself in the States. He is a prosperous businessman who owns a painting company that is well known around the city. He and his wife, Kathy, proudly practice Islam and raise their 4 children to be kind, loving and honorable people.
When Hurricane Katrina threatened New Orleans, no one truly believed it would hit. Zeitoun had seen storm after storm come by and barely blow over a few trees. He was adamant about the fact that he would stay, regardless of the circumstances. As the news became more forceful with evacuations, Kathy and the kids decided to take refuge in Baton Rouge. Although they begged Zeitoun to join them, he refused, saying that they had their house, their business and their rental properties to look after.
In the days after the storm and flooding, Zeitoun took it upon himself to travel the city in his canoe, bringing water and food to stranded people and animals. He felt important and called by God to be an aid. Little did he know that the government and authority structures were collapsing and he would soon be in a whole lot of trouble with FEMA, the National Guard and Homeland Security.
I will not go into further detail here about the story. Let me just say that it is angering, saddening, horrifying and unbelievable. While reading, I had to keep reminding myself of two things: 1. This was 2005... not WWII and 2. This was AMERICA. The way the system fell apart and collapsed is just appalling. It really made me think... this just happened to ONE city... what if it were an entire state? or region? or country? There would be wide spread mayhem and we would be in a savage situation.
About the writing: I thought Eggers' prose was descriptive and beautiful. He truly captured every detail, smell, sound and condition. Some reviewers have said that Eggers has "writers ADD" because his story pulls away into side stories every few paragraphs. The story does not move in a straight chronological line... instead it reminds me of a centipede... as you read about the main story, little legs sprout about giving side stories that depict the characters life, family, past decisions, etc. I felt that it added so much more humanity to the characters and made me understand where they were coming from. My only complaint would be that at times there is a repetitive nature to the day in and day out activities... but that would be the case, considering it's a true story.