When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a prosperous Syrian-American and father of four, chose to stay through the storm to protect his house and contracting business. In the days after the storm, he traveled the flooded streets in a secondhand canoe, passing on supplies and helping those he could. A week later, Zeitoun abruptly disappeared. Turns out he’d been detained as a suspected terrorist, kept for 3 days in an open cage, then sent to a prison for two weeks without being charged.
In Eggers’ own words, this is a book about “the intersection of so many issues in recent American life: the debacle of the government response to Katrina, the struggles facing even the most successful immigrants, a judicial system in need of repair, the problem of wrongful conviction, the paranoia wrought by the War on Terror, widespread Islamophobia . . .”
Eggers explores Zeitoun’s roots in Syria, his marriage to an American who converted to Islam, and the surreal atmosphere (in New Orleans and the United States generally) in which what happened to Abdulrahman Zeitoun was possible.