As though hes doing penance for younger indulgences, Dave Eggers has gone in an unexpected direction in recent years, focusing on sober, intimate accounts of underreported subjects. It's a sharp contrast to his precious early work, and it has rehabilitated his reputation among some of his detractors. Zeitoun, his 2009 novel, details the protracted aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, focusing on Syrian-born contractor Abdulrahman Zeitoun, who remains in New Orleans to protect his property even as his family flees. After saving victims of the hurricane with his small canoe, Zeitoun becomes embroiled in a legal and bureaucratic clusterfuck that can only be described as Kafka-esque. Considering the administrative injustices and clueless disaster response Eggers details, the obvious approach would be to use Zeitouns experience as a broad metaphor for the failures of the Bush administration and the common thugs it employed to rebuild New Orleans. Instead, Eggers maintains an impartial tone, allowing the parties to damn themselves with their own words and inaction. This years selection for the San Francisco Public Librarys One City, One Book initiative, Zeitoun is an uneasy read and an unusually political choice for the citywide effort. Yet despite the grim subject matter, it is ultimately a story of redemption, emphasizing the importance of community as a corrective to institutional failure.
Tue., Sept. 21, noon, 2010