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Interview with hero of Dave Eggers’ Zeitoun book

ZeitounThe Guardian has an interview with Abdulrahman Zeitoun, the hero of Dave Eggers’s book, Zeitoun. I read this book last year and it made me very angry. Zeitoun remained behind in New Orleans as Katrina struck and went on to help the survivors. For his trouble, he was thrown in jail because of his Arabic looks and the authorities thought terrorists would be in the hurricane-ruined town. I love these sort of books – true stories about ordinary people who do extraordinary things. Zeitoun himself comes across as a remarkable selfless man who does not dwell on the stupidity of others.

At this point, our journey begins its descent to a much darker place. Zeitoun points out the spot where he saw a human body floating in the filthy water. Then we arrive at Claiborne Avenue where the weirdness truly began. It was 6 September, six days after the hurricane, and he was in the house – his own property, which he rents out – along with a Syrian friend, Nasser Dayoob, his tenant Todd Gambino and Ronnie, a white man Zeitoun didn’t know but who had asked to stay in the house for shelter. Zeitoun was on the phone to his brother in Syria when six unidentified police officers and National Guardsmen burst through the front door dressed in military fatigues and bullet-proof vests and carrying M16s and pistols. Zeitoun explained he was the landlord, but the only response was a demand from one of the National Guardsmen for his identity card.

“All he did was look at my ID,” Zeitoun says, “and that was enough. Nothing else. No other questions. The moment he saw my name he said, ‘Get into the boat!'”

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