Monday, 23 August 2010

Zeitoun- vital writing


It seems a bit portentous to say that this is probably the most important book Dave Eggers will ever write, but it is no less true.
An examination of the event 5 years ago that is the paradigm of the current period of 'disaster capitalism' that as Naomi Klein has pointed out we are now in: the flooding and destruction of New Orleans.
The genius of the work is that it is firmly a piece of non-fiction and that it tells the story through the eyes of a Muslim-American family. Indeed the narrative structure which is clever builds a picture of a family happy and global in nature around the disintegration of American civil society.
There are endless debates on the line between fiction and non-fiction but in this work its jaw - punching power lies in its truth. Eggers' last major work was also non-fiction but relied much on recollections of a young African child. This work has the sense of research, testimony and interviews - a bit like Capote's In Cold Blood.
Zeitoun is a Syrian immigrant who is a successful builder who stays behind in his city New Orleans as his family leaves. He seeks to help those stranded. Things take a dramatic (and for me shocking) turn though. The themes of 21st century America become intertwined - deregulated capitalism and government and fear of Islamic terror.
Egger's elegant prose style takes a back seat here and he lets the terrible story unfold. He understands that the most moving images in life are fairly simple and mundane - a sore foot, hamburger meat, a child's question. And it is moving - almost unbearably sad in places but uplifting and anger inducing too. To read the book really explains why Obama won the Presidency in the states so convincingly 3 years after this.
Zeitoun states of one of his colleagues attitude to the disaster unfolding in front of him and how he rises to the occasion of helping out people he was "a good man made better". The same is true of Eggers, a vital piece of work.

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