Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Good Book With Eye Opening, Jaw Dropping Revelations.

So, I've been a book reading tear recently. I read my first book of fiction in over a decade, "Skin and Bones" by D.C. Corso which is available at Powell's Books. It's a spooky yarn involving a detective who falls for a woman who is the catalyst to solving gruesome murders involving young children over the span of several decades. Pick it up if you see it in a book store. You won't regret it.

Now, I mostly read non-fiction books. I don't know why, but in recent years I haven't been able to read fantasy or Science fiction. I guess it's because I can't suspend disbelief anymore. So I like to read something that I know is grounded in reality and unless I read Karl Rove's new book, It will be found in the non-fiction category.

After reading a rather wonky book about Cornelious Vanderbilt, I was ready to start reading a book I bought on impulse at the airport book store where I work. The book is called "Zeitoun" by Dave Eggers.

The book tells the story of Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a Syrian born painter/contractor who lived in New Orleans with his family when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. Zeitoun one of thirteen eyewitnesses featured in another book about Katrina, "Voices From The Storm".

"Zeitoun" the book is about Zeitoun's detailed account on what happened to him and his family when Hurricane Katrina hit. It details the buildup to the hurricane and how inconsistent the news reports were in where the brunt of the hurricane would hit. Zeitoun's wife, Kathy took their children out of the city shortly before the hurricane hit and headed first to Baton Rouge then way out to Phoenix when the house in Baton Rouge got too crowded.

Zeitoun meanwhile stayed behind because he felt he had a responsibility to his many clients to secure his equipment so's not to cause damage to their property when the hurricane hit. He also wanted to watch his house and make sure his business was ready to take on what would surely be an influx of business that would come his way when everyone returned to New Orleans. He had never left the city before when previous hurricanes struck and felt he can endure this one too.

The hurricane hit and did the usual, Winds blowing hard, Rain falling fast,causing significant damage but nothing really serious in Zeitoun's neighborhood which was on higher ground than much of the rest of the city. When the storm subsided, It looked like the damage wasn't that severe. The water receded and Zeitoun was making plans for the next few days when all the residents would return. The electricity was off but Zeitoun well supplied with food to keep him going for weeks.

The next day Zeitoun woke up to the sound of rushing water that didn't sound right. He looked out and saw a wall of water enveloping his backyard and his streets. The clearness of the water and its presence of salinity indicated to Zeitoun that the levees that surrounded New Orleans had broke and was going to flood everything in its path. For the first few days after the flood, Zeitoun was in a serene state, Taking in the peace and quiet of his neighborhood and the perverse beauty of his town become a water wonderland. He explored it with a second hand canoe he bought. This gave him a taste of freedom that would not be his without it. He rowed through streets that he only knew from driving a car. He checked on his rental properties, neighbors houses, helped some stranded people to get to safety and settled in for the long haul.

Meanwhile his wife Kathy, A American born Baptist who converted to the Muslim faith was dealing with indignities of her own. Some of it having to do with her family and some of it having to do with her fear for her stubborn husband's insistence of staying in New Orleans.

Zeitoun's days in New Orleans started to grow grim. He had helped rescue people, connected with others he knew that stayed behind, He even helped feed some dogs that were left behind. His pride and sense of freedom soon was overtaken by fear and sadness. He was staring to see, hear and smell death. He saw many armed people roaming the area, looters and what not. The water went from clear to a toxic sludge and he knew he needed to leave. After taking a shower that somehow was working at one of his rental properties, He called his brother to give him an update of his situation. It was then when a group of armed individuals appeared and burst through the door.

It was here that the book took on a weird, frustrating, and shameful path. We get Kathy's perspective of what it was like to not hear from her husband for nearly two weeks. He had called everyday up to that point. Then we get filled in on what happened to Zeitoun during that time and it has to be read to be believed. The details of what happened to him gives you an idea why it was Katrina and the response to it that doomed Gov. Kathleen Blanco's chances of running for another term for governor of Louisiana, and more than anything reveals why Ex-president Bush suffered such a devastating blow to his popularity after Katrina. The actions taken by the federal government was such a disgrace it makes you wonder how it can happen in the United States.

But Dave Eggers steers away from putting blame on Bush himself. It's not an attack book, It just details one family experiences with the hurricane, Their background, How Zeitoun and Kathy met and the after effects of their experiences post-Katrina. The book really pulls you in, makes you feel empathy for people that may have been judged harshly for staying behind during this disaster. It gives you many sides to the story including those you may come to despise while reading it.

This book moved me, thrilled me in some ways, but made me confront my own bigotry on things.

Trust me, It's worth your time. Go to your library if you don't take my word for it.

1 comment:

PatriotPaul said...

As a San Diego tourist trapped in the Superdome during Katrina I look forward to reading this book.

But until the media spends at least 10% of the time it spent right after Katrina, correcting the misinformation it put out then, NOLA will continue to struggle. Some of the major areas it has to make amends for so that mainstream America stops perpetuating myths and demonizing parts of New Orleans include the following:

Reports of murders and rapes at the Superdome, and helicopter shootings were grossly exaggerated. In fact there are no positive confirmations of any of these according to authorities later on. While there was some illegal activity and some bad apples, most people were helping one another and concerned about survival, but fear is a powerful emotion in controlling behavior and spreading rumors.

Most of the deaths and destruction in NOLA was caused by improperly built and improperly maintained levees. Katrina hit landfall as a Category 3 hurricane and untopped levees simply gave way. A Federal judge as well as an independent engineering study has placed the blame on the Army Corps of Engineers.

New Orleans citizens may have had more to fear from the local Police and Blackwater guards than their fellow citizens. The FBI and Justice Dept. continue to investigate cases in which there either have been confirmed coverups or potential coverups in the shootings of unarmed civilians.

80-90% of citizens did evacuate, which is considered a very high percentage by emergency evacuation/disaster experts. This was in spite of the Airport, Greyhound, and Amtrak stations all being closed a day prior to the evacuation order and 2 days prior to the storm. Why these premature closings even occurred has not been satisfactorily answered.

Finally, very few Americans are aware that a video and transcripts were uncovered 6 months after Katrina that clearly show President Bush being forewarned by Gov. Blanco, the Head of the Hurricane Center, and the Head of FEMA that the levees might be breached and that this storm was very likely to be devastating. Bush seemed indifferent and days after Katrina stated that "no one could have foreseen the breach of the levees." This video showed him caught in a lie and fully warned.

Paul Harris
Author, "Diary From the Dome, Reflections on Fear and Privilege During Katrina"