Overview of the Common Summer Reading: In 2005, Adulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun were New Orleans residents who had a busy family life, a booming construction and remodeling business, and a close circle of friends and family. In late August it became clear that Hurricane Katrina would be a dangerous storm, so Zeitoun sent his wife and children out of New Orleans to stay with family; he remained to watch his home, properties, and business. After enduring Katrina's horrific force, Zeitoun found himself in a flooded nightmare called New Orleans. He dug out an old canoe and paddled around the flooded city for six days, rescuing neighbors and strangers, taking care of animals, and checking on his rental properties and his tenants. Kathy remained in touch with him until one day in September, when he stopped calling. Zeitoun's story from this point forward is a chilling account of what happens when ordinary Americans attempt to cope with a disaster in a community already divided along racial and economic lines, during a time when Americans were wary of and sensitive to persons from other countries. Abdul and Kathy's story highlights the rights of detainees during mass disasters, Americans' views of American Muslims in a post-9/11 society, and how one special family has been able to forgive and move forward. Even after the disaster and all that followed, the Zeitouns continue to work to rebuild New Orleans.
Why this book was chosen: The Common Summer Reading group comprised of students, staff, and faculty made this choice because this book will meet several goals of the First-Year Experience. First, our selection was guided by the fact that Hurricane Katrina is a salient and important part of the lives of students who will enter Catawba College in 2011. Students will remember images of Katrina, but they may not know or remember much about life in New Orleans during and after the storm. This book will allow them to better understand the impact of both the storm and the attempts to control the storm damage on the social and economic lives of the citizens of New Orleans. Second, the book will introduce students to an American couple who are Muslims, which we anticipate may open dialog and interchange about Americans of various faiths in hopes that those who are different from us become more real as humans and less foreign.
Next, Zeitoun will afford discussions of the impact of natural disasters on civil rights and liberties of Americans. We believe that Zeitoun will also allow our students to enjoy thoughtful conversations about our role as citizens and our obligations to our communities. Such discussions of community, as well as those focused on vocation and the idea that one person can make a large difference, harmonize with Lilly Center goals. Moreover, several ideas presented in Zeitoun can find root in themes of many first-year seminars that will be offered: heroism, the role of the media in our understanding of politics and culture, race and ethnicity, and propaganda. Finally, Zeitoun affords potential co-curricular fall activities for our students. There are several possible service projects for an array of nonprofit organizations (e.g., Rebuilding Together, the Green Project) designed to help rebuild New Orleans; each is under the auspices of the Zeitoun Foundation. Additionally, there are several persons involved in the Zeitoun Foundation who would be happy to come to Catawba to speak to our students, further engaging the class of 2015 in a common academic experience.
How to use the study guide: The following is a comprehensive guide to assist you in gleaning important facts and ideas from Zeitoun. Your First-Year Seminar Advisor will, in his or her letter to you this summer, explain to you how to focus your reading for the particular questions that will be the basis of your seminar's discussion and use of the book during Orientation and the fall semester.
Before you begin reading and thinking about the story, locate New Orleans on a map and examine the city's topography. We've heard a lot about New Orleans and how it fared during Hurricane Katrina, but few of us have taken the time to see how the city is laid out and how those arrangements impacted who bore the brunt of the storm.
Second, look up and generate definitions for the following terms: civil rights, constitutional rights, and civil liberties.
Finally, find out something about the author, Dave Eggers. Who is he, what is he known for, and what is his ethos? Keep in mind that Eggers won the National Book Award for Zeitoun, and as you read the book, ask yourself, "why did Eggers write this book?" The answer to that question may change as the book progresses.
Before the storm:
1. Why does Eggers start with Abdul Zeitoun's (henceforth called Zeitoun) youth and, specifically, his experiences as a fisherman? Why does he then jump to 2005 and one typical Friday morning for the Zeitoun family? What were the concerns of the family on that Friday, and why does Eggers spend so much time describing them?
2. "Anyone who had a problem with rainbows," said Zeitoun, "would surely have a problem with Islam" (22). How does this assertion set the tone for Eggers's account of Zeitoun's story?
3. What was Kathy's background? Did anything about her — or the typical Zeitoun family day — surprise you? How did she meet Zeitoun, and why did they "click"? Did they encounter any biases in New Orleans? More or less than you might have expected?
4. Describe Zeitoun's work ethic and his stubbornness. How did these develop?
5. What was Zeitoun's special Friday ritual?
6. As Friday, August 26 th, came to a close, what was the Zeitoun family's major focus?
August 27th, August 28th, and August 29th
7. Eggers "covers" two major aspects on his account of this "day." First is Zeitoun's decision to stay and for Kathy to leave, and the second is Kathy's conversion to Islam. Why does he present these two important life events together?
8. What was Kathy's "simple" drive out of New Orleans like? Why did Zeitoun stay?
9. Eggers details several steps in Kathy's spiritual journey. Recount how Kathy come to Islam. What discoveries did she make? What did you learn about Islam?
10. "A home was worth fighting for" (80). Why did Zeitoun stay, and how did he cope with Katrina? How did he initially see and evaluate the storm damage?
August 30th - September 2nd
11. Why do you think Zeitoun worked to save the family possessions rather than find a means to leave? What was Zeitoun's first foray in the canoe like? Why did he pick up Frank? What did Zeitoun realize when the fan boat wouldn't stop for them?
12. What tensions — beyond concern for Zeitoun — was Kathy facing in Baton Rouge?
13. Why did Zeitoun feel "purpose"? (116). What was Kathy's response to his refusal to leave?
14. Why did Zeitoun return in thought and memory to his childhood and family — and how do his memories add to your understanding of why he chose to stay?
15. Why did Kathy leave Louisiana (knowing Zeitoun was there) and go to Arizona?
16. With so much devastation, why did Zeitoun search for dogs to feed? Did you find it odd that he was so calm (and unafraid) among the wreckage that was New Orleans?
17. How did meeting Nasser reinforce Zeitoun's decision to stay longer, despite Kathy's pleas? How did he end Friday, September 2?
18. "We can help you" (144) was what the National Guards told Zeitoun. However, those who said they would help didn't actually do so. What did you think when you read that government officials were unwilling and unable to help rescue citizens?
September 3rd - September 6th
19. What indications do you get that life in New Orleans — and the tone and tenor of Eggers's account — are about to change?
20. For what small favors is Zeitoun grateful as New Orleans remains underwater? What does he mean by remembering that "any vessel, any carriers of humans, needs a captain" (164), and how does that thought sustain him as the situation in New Orleans degenerates further?
21. Finally it seems as though the bad scene that is New Orleans 'gets' to Zeitoun. What pushes him to the edge? And why did he still not quite commit to leaving? What did he tell the reporter? What did he believe?
22. How long does it take Kathy and Ahmad to realize that Zeitoun is missing? What do they do? How long do they wait before they have any assurances about his safety?
23. What does Kathy discover on September 19 — two long weeks after she last heard from Zeitoun?
24. What are Civil liberties? Civil rights? Constitutional rights?
25. Why did the officers take Zeitoun and Todd? Were they arrested? Where were they taken?
26. What did the National Guard troops think of the money, the memory stick, and other remnants — all legal — found in Todd and Nasser's pockets? What did they think of Zeitoun? Why and how was Zeitoun searched? Had the men yet been charged with a crime?
27. What was the cage? What behaviors were enforced in the cage? What was the purpose of the cage "rules"? Why did the guards spray ... and spray ... and spray?
28. Why did the men pray? Why did Zeitoun hope? How could they stick to their principles despite being degraded?
Thursday, September 8th through September 19th
29. How did Zeitoun "treat" his foot? Why couldn't he get medical help? Why was the psychological state of the guards continuing to decline, and how did the prisoners "pay" for that?
30. When Zeitoun and Nasser were moved to the prison, why were they isolated? Why were they denied the right to a phone call? What was meant by doing "Katrina time"?
31. When — and why — did Zeitoun start to lose hope?
Side note: Most of us have pretty vivid recollections of post-Katrina New Orleans in September of 2005. Do you remember any media coverage of some of the problems that plagued Zeitoun and his family and friends?
32. On pp. 264-65, Zeitoun ponders the question of whether the US government can hold him without charging him — could the government do that? Can they do that?
33. Who was Merlene Maten, and what was her Katrina story?
34. Zeitoun's memories of family and his time traveling and working odd jobs around the world become very salient to him. Why does he ponder some of the memories more than others? Why, for example, does he recollect "bycatch"?
35. Who eventually apologized to Zeitoun? Why? Then what happened? Did the apology change his status, or was he still charged with a crime?
36. What did Kathy and Ahmad learn as they tried to get Zeitoun released from prison? Why did it take yet another three days after the release was approved before Zeitoun left the prison?
37. Kathy's first impression of Zeitoun when he was released was that "he had been broken." (299) What led her to that immediate conclusion?
Part V: 2008
38. How does Kathy's behavior exemplify Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
39. What did Zeitoun and Kathy do in their devastated city after Zeitoun's release? Why did he bother to check on the dogs?
40. Why did Eggers follow up to find the people who arrested Zeitoun, when the Zeitouns were actually willing to put it all behind them?
41. What was the US government's position for civil management and law enforcement under emergencies? After the disaster, how did FEMA and the government re-assess their procedures (or did they)?
42. Why did Eggers describe the government efforts to build an impromptu prison while so many citizens of New Orleans were stuck without food, water, shelter, or medical help after the storm? What was the author's point?
43. Why did Kathy confront the guardsman when she and Zeitoun returned to Camp Greyhound for his possessions?
44. Even as her family has grown and her life is on track, why does Kathy (yet, strangely not Zeitoun himself) continue to be haunted by the experience?
45. How long did Zeitoun's friends spend in prison?
46. Kathy asks (329), "Did all that really happen? Did it happen in the United States? Did it happen to us?" Could this all happen again, in another place and time in America?
47. Why do the Zeitouns stay in New Orleans? What are they doing, and what does Zeitoun live for?
48. Why does Zeitoun believe that there was a purpose for his trials and his family's suffering? What is that purpose?