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Zeitoun (book)

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The cover of Zeitoun, illustrated by Rachell Sumpter.
AuthorDave Eggers
SubjectHurricane Katrina
Published2009 (McSweeney's)
Publication placeUnited States
Media typehardcover, paperback
Preceded byThe Wild Things 
Followed byA Hologram for the King 

Zeitoun is a nonfiction book written by Dave Eggers and published by McSweeney's in 2009. It tells the story of Abdulrahman Zeitoun, the Syrian-American owner of a painting and contracting company in New Orleans, Louisiana, who chose to ride out Hurricane Katrina in his Uptown home.

After the hurricane, he traveled the flooded city in a secondhand canoe rescuing neighbors, caring for abandoned pets and distributing fresh water, but was arrested without reason or explanation at one of his rental houses, along with three others, by a mixed group of U.S. Army National Guard soldiers and local police officers. Zeitoun and the others were accused of terrorist activities, presumably because of the large amount of money found in their possession as well as maps of the city and a storage disc, and were detained for 23 days. Zeitoun was refused medical attention and the use of a phone to alert his family. His wife and daughters, who were staying with friends far away from the city, only learned that he had disappeared.

Plot summary[edit]

Abdulrahman Zeitoun grew up in Syria. After a few years of apprenticeship in the Syrian port city of Jableh, Zeitoun spent twenty years working at sea as a crewman, engineer and fisherman. During this time he traveled the world and eventually settled in the United States in 1988. Zeitoun met his wife Kathy, a native of Baton Rouge, with whom he founded their business, Zeitoun Painting Contractors LLC. Kathy converted to Islam.[1]

In late August 2005, as Hurricane Katrina approached the city, Kathy and their four children left New Orleans for Baton Rouge. Zeitoun stayed behind to watch over their home, ongoing job sites and rental properties. Once the storm made landfall, their neighborhood (although miles from the nearest levees) was flooded up to the second floor of most houses. Zeitoun began to explore the city in a secondhand canoe, distributing what supplies he had, ferrying neighbors to higher ground and caring for abandoned dogs.[citation needed]

On September 6, Zeitoun and three companions were arrested at one of Zeitoun's rental houses by a mixed group of U.S. Army National Guardsmen, local police and police from out of state. They were detained in a makeshift jail in a Greyhound bus station -"Camp Greyhound" - for three days before being transferred to Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in nearby St. Gabriel, Louisiana. Zeitoun was held at Hunt for 20 more days without trial, but he was given a bond of 75 thousand dollars and read his charges. He was interviewed by officers and later by ICE officials and put in segregated cells.

Writing procedure[edit]

Eggers began work on the book in 2006, after meeting Kathy and Abdulrahman through another McSweeney's project called Voices from the Storm. He worked closely with the Zeitoun family while researching and writing the book, meeting with them multiple times in New Orleans and letting them read six or seven versions of the manuscript.[2] Eggers visited members of the Zeitoun family living in Syria, as well as Abdulrahman's brother Ahmad, who lives in Spain. Eggers said he would not personally make money from the book's publication; any funds from the book would be distributed by the Zeitoun Foundation, a nonprofit set up by Eggers and the Zeitoun family.[2]


Entertainment Weekly put it on its end-of-the-decade "best-of" list, saying of Eggers that, "He kicked off the decade as the look-at-me stylist behind 2000's A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. The fact that Eggers bookended it with this gut-wrenchingly poignant and selfless Katrina story proves that even boy wonders can grow up."[3]

Zeitoun was nominated in the Creative Nonfiction category for the 2010 California Book Awards.[4]

Film conversion[edit]

In 2009, an animated film based on the book was announced, set to be directed by Jonathan Demme.[5] However, in May 2014, The Playlist reported that the film was "percolat[ing] in development".[6]


The book describes the difficulty Kathy had in the years afterward coping with the stress of the jailing and related events.[7] The couple's relationship deteriorated in subsequent years, and they divorced in 2012.[8]

In August 2012, Abdulrahman Zeitoun was charged with plotting to have Kathy Zeitoun, her son, and another man murdered.[9] In July 2013, Zeitoun was tried and found not guilty of charges of attempted first-degree murder and solicitation of first-degree murder. The state's main witness, who had an extensive multi-state criminal record, was found not credible.[10] In 2016, Zeitoun was convicted of felony stalking his ex-wife.[11]In September 2018, after completing his prison sentence, Zeitoun was ordered deported by an immigration judge, but then freed from federal detention, as his native Syria was in the midst of a civil war and had no diplomatic relations in place to facilitate receiving deportees.[12]


  1. ^ Pilkington, Ed (11 March 2010). "The amazing true story of Zeitoun". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 August 2017.
  2. ^ a b Stephen Elliott (June 9, 2009). "The Rumpus Long Interview with Dave Eggers". The Rumpus. Retrieved January 6, 2011.
  3. ^ Geier, Thom; Jensen, Jeff; Jordan, Tina; Lyons, Margaret; Markovitz, Adam; Nashawaty, Chris; Pastorek, Whitney; Rice, Lynette; Rottenberg, Josh; Schwartz, Missy; Slezak, Michael; Snierson, Dan; Stack, Tim; Stroup, Kate; Tucker, Ken; Vary, Adam B.; Vozick-Levinson, Simon; Ward, Kate (December 11, 2009), "THE 100 Greatest MOVIES, TV SHOWS, ALBUMS, BOOKS, CHARACTERS, SCENES, EPISODES, SONGS, DRESSES, MUSIC VIDEOS, AND TRENDS THAT ENTERTAINED US OVER THE PAST 10 YEARS". Entertainment Weekly. (1079/1080):74-84
  4. ^ "2010 Northern California Book Award nominees". San Francisco Chronicle. March 7, 2010. Retrieved January 6, 2011.
  5. ^ Dave Itzkoff (October 28, 2009). "'Zeitoun' as Cartoon: Demme Plans Animated Film of Eggers Book". The New York Times. Retrieved January 6, 2011.
  6. ^ Jagernauth, Kevin (May 16, 2014). "Daniel Radcliffe To Star In Adaptation Of Dave Eggers' 'You Shall Know Our Velocity' Directed By Peter Sollett". Indiewire. Retrieved March 22, 2016.
  7. ^ "Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun Talk With Honors Students — LSU Honors College". www.honors.lsu.edu. Retrieved 2022-09-20.
  8. ^ Times-Picayune, Naomi Martin, NOLA com | The. "Zeitoun found not guilty on charges he tried to kill his ex-wife". NOLA.com. Retrieved 2022-09-20.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  9. ^ Simerman, John (2012-11-09). "Famed Hurricane Katrina protagonist Zeitoun indicted in alleged murder attempts on ex-wife". The Times-Picayune. Advance Publications. Retrieved 2013-02-06.
  10. ^ Martin, Naomi. "Zeitoun found not guilty on charges he tried to kill his ex-wife," The Times-Picayune (July 30, 2013).
  11. ^ Times-Picayune, Emily Lane, NOLA com | The. "Subject of post-Katrina book, 'Zeitoun,' sentenced to 4 years for stalking". NOLA.com. Retrieved 2022-09-20.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  12. ^ Simerman, John (2018-09-28). "Disgraced Katrina literary hero Abdulrahman Zeitoun ordered deported, but released after prison term". The Advocate. Capital City Press LLC. Retrieved 2024-04-30.

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