Book Club Reflection: Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

24 Mar

Not surprisingly, my book club’s discussion of ‘Zeitoun’ was very tinged y the controversy surrounding the main subject and his family. It was good to talk about it with some other people but this was a delicate discussion to have so I didn’t take notes on all things that were said in an effort to keep this blog free from as much political discussion as possible. I apologize that this is short.A few people thought that Zeitoun’s story seemed a little unreal because of how kind he was portrayed and how extreme his treatment in the jail was. We liked that he cared for the dogs and the other people around him but in light of the news, we’re wondering if it’s true. The treatment he received in the Greyhound jail seemed very extreme and made us think about those detained at Guantanamo Bay. Is what they experienced normal of those held there? Why would the government or police think it was okay to treat people who were accused of looting the same as those accused of terroristic plots?

A few people thought that Zeitoun’s story seemed a little unreal because of how kind he was portrayed and how extreme his treatment in the jail was. We liked that he cared for the dogs and the other people around him but in light of the news, we’re wondering if it’s true. The treatment he received in the Greyhound jail seemed very extreme and made us think about those detained at Guantanamo Bay. Is what they experienced normal of those held there? Why would the government or police think it was okay to treat people who were accused of looting the same as those accused of terroristic plots?There were so many factors that made Katrina the disaster it was. A huge part of it was the levees breaking. Because the levees were known not to be strong enough to support the amount of water that a hurricane the size of Katrina could cause, was it a manmade disaster? There’s no arguing that nature took its turn first, but what about the aftermath? We argued that the work should have been

There were so many factors that made Katrina the disaster it was. A huge part of it was the levees breaking. Because the levees were known not to be strong enough to support the amount of water that a hurricane the size of Katrina could cause, was it a manmade disaster? There’s no arguing that nature took its turn first, but what about the aftermath? We argued that the work should have been done, but the $5 million price tag on the work was a deterrent that in hindsight seems cheap but at the time was too big to surmount. Any trees and hills that had been removed or flattened for city expansion could have stopped the erosion and expansion of the levee water, but it had been removed for city development. Sometimes nature has her own insurance policies that humans remove.The anecdotes about how FEMA and other government bodies seemed to provide no solid assistance were so frustrating. The novel seemed to tell us that the possibility of terrorism was more of a concern than helping those who were in need and could have benefited from public assistance. There was an impression that assistance was more

The anecdotes about how FEMA and other government bodies seemed to provide no solid assistance were so frustrating. The novel seemed to tell us that the possibility of terrorism was more of a concern than helping those who were in need and could have benefited from public assistance. There was an impression that assistance was more effective in other regions touched by the disaster than it was in New Orleans. Perhaps New Orleans was a problem so hard no one wanted to tackle it.We felt there were a lot of questions about Zeitoun’s co-captives that should have been raised. Why were Nassar and Todd held for so much longer than Zeitoun? If they’d

We felt there were a lot of questions about Zeitoun’s co-captives that should have been raised. Why were Nassar and Todd held for so much longer than Zeitoun? If they’d been brought in on similar charges, why were they not released at the same time Zeitoun got out? Why didn’t Zeitoun advocate for his friends? We can understand not sticking up for the unknown Ronnie, but Todd was a long-time border and Nassar a friend. Why would they be left for five and six months in conditions that Zeitoun knew were inhumane? It seemed fishy.Zeitoun was a very self-dependent person. It didn’t surprise us that he didn’t leave New Orleans with his livelihood staying in the city. He wanted to be around the things that kept him dependent. He had grown up in his oldest brother’s shadow and wanted to be a hero the way Mohammed was a hero to their small town in Syria.

Zeitoun was a very self-dependent person. It didn’t surprise us that he didn’t leave New Orleans with his livelihood staying in the city. He wanted to be around the things that kept him dependent. He had grown up in his oldest brother’s shadow and wanted to be a hero the way Mohammed was a hero to their small town in Syria.Now we turn to the part of the discussion that was tinged with the recent news. When we thought about it, Kathy’s voice seemed to be withheld. It seemed more like Zeitoun speaking through her than a separate and distinct voice. We also noticed a few things that stuck out in light of the news. She seemed to jump to the conclusion that her husband had died very quickly. When he’s stuck in an area where there are no working phones and conditions are changing by the minute, you have to expect that there might not be any news for days or weeks at a time. She seemed to think he was dead quickly. Was it wishful thinking? Her memory loss might have other origins than PTSD in light of the trial. If he wasn’t afraid to beat her with a tire iron in public, what kind of head trauma might she have suffered behind closed doors? It might be memories of Katrina or maybe memories of being hit by her husband.

Now we turn to the part of the discussion that was tinged with the recent news. When we thought about it, Kathy’s voice seemed to be withheld. It seemed more like Zeitoun speaking through her than a separate and distinct voice. We also noticed a few things that stuck out in light of the news. She seemed to jump to the conclusion that her husband had died very quickly. When he’s stuck in an area where there are no working phones and conditions are changing by the minute, you have to expect that there might not be any news for days or weeks at a time. She seemed to think he was dead quickly. Was it wishful thinking? Her memory loss might have other origins than PTSD in light of the trial. If he wasn’t afraid to beat her with a tire iron in public, what kind of head trauma might she have suffered behind closed doors? It might be memories of Katrina or maybe memories of being hit by her husband.I was personally upset that Kathy’s family couldn’t accept her religion and her conversion. She

I was personally upset that Kathy’s family couldn’t accept her religion and her conversion. She chose to become a Muslim before she even met Zeitoun so their insistence that her hijab was something Abdulrahman made her do was ridiculous to me. Their comments that she could take it off because ‘he wasn’t there’ make me wonder if they saw it as an oppression of her religion or her husband and if they could draw a difference between the two. I also wonder if they knew about the abuse and correlated Islam and spousal abuse, making it harder to accept their daughter in a hijab. Either way, it upset me that they didn’t love everything about her, even the parts that were different from themselves.

We wondered why Kathy would stay quiet about being beaten. Being thrust into the public spotlight would give her the opportunity to stick up for herself and get help, but she remained silent. There was some debate among us about how Eggers might have conducted his relationship with the Zeitouns. Did he know about the abuse and take it out of his book? Did the Zeitouns insist it was removed when they read his drafts? It seems that he gave them a lot of control over the content and we wondered how much was removed by the Zeitouns, how much was removed by Eggers, and how much was never written in the first place.

One member said, “I feel like someone told me there wasn’t a Santa Clause’ when we told her the news. It’s very jarring to hear about a character who was portrayed in such a good light. If the part of the book about his suffering in prison is true, how do we feel about it? Is it karma that he suffered there if he was a wife beater? Did he deserve it? Let me know what you think

This was a very controversal novel and made for a good discussion, but not of the content in the book. I enjoyed the book a lot but I’m not sure that this is the best book for book clubs to discussion in light of the news that came out after it’s acclaim. Great choice for our edgy book club, but maybe not for a more traditional group.

Until next time, write on.

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2 Responses to “Book Club Reflection: Zeitoun by Dave Eggers”

  1. mari March 25, 2015 at 5:55 PM #

    …hoping for more books that provoke intense discussion!

    Like

    • Sam March 25, 2015 at 6:55 PM #

      Same! It’s great when we disagree!

      Like

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