Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Nonfiction and Real Life

The first night I read "Zeitoun" I put it on the nightstand and said "this book is really well written".  A very interesting take on Hurricane Katrina and a family's struggle before, during and after the storm.
In horror movies, space invasion movies, end of the world movies, war movies, I'm usually thinking "oh, I would be dead by now".  While reading "Zeitoun" I was thinking "I would have evacuated by now".
The trouble, for me, came when I wanted to find out more about the book before I finished it.  Bad idea.  It seems that Dave Eggers worked very closely with Zeitoun and his family and maybe their editing oversight makes this not quite "non-fiction".  Plus there have been some criminal issues after the book for Zeitoun.
However, I wanted to keep reading.  I was pulled along by Eggers' writing.  I decided to treat this book as I treated "Million Little Pieces".  I knew there were faults in real life, outside the book, but kept my reading compartmentalized to the written page.
This book is about selfishness.  Zeitoun is one of the most selfish characters I have encountered in my reading.  The Mayor asks you to go, you go.  Your wife begs you to leave, you go.  Your children want you with them, you go.  NOTHING is worth staying for...no home, no material possession. Zeitoun is all ego.  Does he think he is better than the people who left?  That he will be protected against crime and disease?  He almost dies of infection after surviving the storm.  Just stupid.
Now, I'm not saying what happens to him in the days following Katrina is deserved, or karma or payback.  It's not.  But if you are still in a city where everyone has been asked to leave I have to think that law enforcement thinks you are up to no good.  That is what happens and Zeitoun becomes trapped in a terrible web of government and law enforcement inefficiency.  It's just horrible.  He should have left! 
While reading this book I thought about some of the people I saw interviewed after Hurricane Sandy.  This one woman said Sandy would never be over for them.  The catastrophic events remain with the survivors forever.  I was in New Orleans at one of the first conventions after Katrina and residents keep track of years by pre-Katrina and post-Katrina.  Or "the Big Storm" as some called it. 
While I'm a little angry about the real life events after this book since you really do connect with the characters, "Zeitoun" is a reminder that life is precious and more important than any physical possession.  So have a safety plan, know where the pet carrier is, have a fire escape, evacuate if someone tells you to and leave it all behind.  (Which ties into my other mantra in life - use what you have because if you never use something and it's destroyed what was the point of having it in the first place?). 

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