Monday, February 22, 2010

My Visit to ABC Studios - Part 3

My Visit to ABC Studios - Part 3

In Part 1 of this series of posts I talked about the filming of Jennifer Byrne Presents: Book to Film. In Part 2 of this series I discussed the filming of First Tuesday Bookclub with a particular focus on the first half of the programme which was about Cloudstreet by Tim Winton. Today, in the final part fo this series, I will discuss the second half of First Tuesday Bookclub about Dave Eggers' Zeitoun.

For a description of the panellists on the show, please refer to Part 2 of the series.

by Dave Eggers

Genre; Non-Fiction
Publisher; Hamish Hamilton/2009/Australia
Pages; 335

Abdulrahman Zeitoun is a Syrian born, Muslim American living with his wife, Kathy, and four children, Zachary, Nademah, Aisha and Safiya in New Orleans. He is a house painter and handy man who is not only well respected in his neighbourhood but is also friends with many of his neighbours. He is an honest man with honest values. He works hard and treats his family and friends well.

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, after making sure his family was safely away from the city, Zeitoun took it upon himself, with the help of his $25 second hand canoe, to paddle the streets on New Orleans
feeding the stranded dogs, helping the trapped people and couriering food and water to those in need. Little did he know he was being watched.

Kathy, Zeitoun's wife, was in constant contact with her husband as she took their children to safety with her family in Baton Rouge. In the first days after the Hurricane they were in contact over their mobile phones, until Zeitoun managed to find a working landline, then promising to phone his wife at noon every day. This happened for many days after the Hurricane until one day the calls stopped.

With Zeitoun's family calling her from Syria and Spain, Kathy must now find her husband, and find him fast.

Panel's Thoughts;
All of the panellists agreed that Zeitoun was a superb book with breath-takingly, gripping suspense.

"Incredibly readable book" Jennifer Byrne
"Heart-in-mouth writing" Marieke Hardy
"Fantastic tension!" Jason Steger
"Engrossing" Peter Garrett

What the panellists did point out, however, is that the book is not the best written book that they have read. As Mem Fox pointed out, there is not one simile or metaphor, she called the writting a little flat and admitted that she would not have wanted to write one word of it. Marieke Hardy voiced her opinion that the story was a little bogged down by the diary structure, saying the day-by-day approach was too limiting. But, with this in mind, they still all agreed that the story is so gripping that you can see past the bad writing.

My Thoughts;
I agree with the panel that this is a superb story. I sat down with the intention of reading a few chapters in the afternoon and ended up finishing the story in the one sitting because I was so hooked.

Firstly, I just want to point out the one negative point I have about the book so that I can go on to the good stuff. I honestly found the first fifty-or-so pages to be a little nauseating. I understand that Eggers must establish Zeitoun as a respected person with good values, but it was a little too much for me. Eggers fell just short of coating Zeitoun in twenty-four carat gold! I feel that he could have toned the praise down a little. But, I am glad I kept reading past that because after those first few pages this story really is enthralling.

I must also say that I do not agree with the panel about this book's lack of simile or metaphor. Yes, the book isn't the most descriptive work and it doesn't give the reader any juicy imagery, but I think this is fitting of the style of book that it is. It gives it a documentary feel which I think makes the book more convincing and more believable, you may even say that it keeps the fidelity of the real events.

What I think Eggers has done really well is the shift between the husband and wife. The first half of the book is mainly told from Zeitoun's perspective, with the occasional snippet from the wife's point of view, but from the time Zeitoun dissapears the story shifts over to the wife and I think that Eggers has used this as a wonderful way to inject suspense into the story. It allows the reader to take the emotional rollercoaster with Kathy, rather than just read about how she is feeling while we, as the reader, know where Zeitoun is.

Reading this story really conjures up concern and makes you think about how people behave in tense and intense situations. It makes you think about who would be in charge in a disasterous situation and how those in charge would treat everyone else. The Zeitoun family is a strong family who love their country and their fellow countrymen, but after Katrina the family's whole belief in America is pulled out from under them.

I think that the two quotes the Eggers uses at the start of the book are really fitting,
"... in the history of the world it might even be that there was more punishment than crime..." (Cormac McCarthy, The Road)
"To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail" (Mark Twain)

I recommend this book to anyone and everyone as a thrilling read which will make you sit up and think about what you would do in a disaster and who you would and could trust.

Happy Reading!


  1. I absolutely loved this book, even though it made me very, very angry at times. This didn't happen in 1970s East Germany - it happened in modern-day American. That's just terrifying.

    The lack of literary flair didn't bother me in the least - it's not supposed to be a Don DeLillo novel, so over-description and or metaphor-mania would have only distracted from the story. In fact, the straighforward style and stark prose rendered the story even more powerful, in my opinion.

    Anyway, I echo the "must-read" sentiment. Great, great book!

  2. It's on my list, and I was putting it off. Now I want to grab it!

    Thanks Nicole!

  3. Greg- I agree that this was a terrifying novel. It is hard to believe that this kind fo thing can happen in modern day America, or the modern day full stop!
    I also agree that lack of description, simile, metaphor etc does add to the power of the story.

    Amy- Yes, I put off reading this book for a week or two as well, but I am glad I did read it, it really is a think piece and well worth the read.

  4. I posted the Blog Award at my other blog..come look!