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Dave Eggers: 'Zeitoun'


Dave Eggers has written, famously, about his own life. He’s written about real lives in Sudan. Now he’s written about a life in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

When Katrina hit New Orleans, Abdulrahman Zeitoun stayed in the city to care for his business and properties. He paddled down flooded streets in a canoe, helping stranded survivors and feeding abandoned dogs — until he was arrested and held without explanation in a makeshift prison.

It’s the story of a solitary man trying to take care of his neighbors and family, a man who enters a nightmare world of cages, armed guards, and abuse.

This hour, On Point: Dave Eggers and the true story of Abdulrahman Zeitoun.

You can join the conversation. Tell us what you think — here on this page, on Twitter, and on Facebook.


Dave Eggers joins us from San Francisco. He’s the founder of the independent publishing house McSweeney’s and author of several works of fiction and nonfiction, including the story collection “How We Are Hungry,” the novel “You Shall Know Our Velocity!,” the fictionalized memoir “What Is the What,”  and the memoir “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.” He co-wrote the film “Away We Go,” released earlier this summer, as well as the upcoming film adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s “Where the Wild Things Are,” to be released in October. He’s co-founder of 826 Valencia, a nonprofit writing and tutoring organization for kids up to age 18.  His new book is “Zeitoun.” You can read excerpts here and here.

Abdulrahman Zeitoun joins us from New Orleans. He’s owner of Zeitoun A. Painting Contractors. He stayed in New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina hit to take care of his business and properties, and was arrested and held in Camp Greyhound, the makeshift prison set up in the early days after the storm.

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  • Mike

    Welcome to Dave from all his fans in On Point listenerland!

  • B Welch

    Is Zeitoun available yet for purchase? The excerp was great. I’ve got to read it on vacation which starts at 4:00 PM TODAY!

  • http://www.onpointradio.org/about-on-point/sam-gale-rosen Sam Gale Rosen

    You bet it’s available! Came out July 15.

  • Emily

    I’ve already finished reading it and it was amazing! A compelling and outrageous story, superbly written.


    I just heard David was on ON POINT. I am now at my office desk trying to stream it but all streaming is blocked. Bummer Man. I discovered you reading What”s the What” while in Zimbabwe. What a fantastic book to read in the bush. I can’t wait to read them all. diana

  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    Diana: Try using iTunes radio to get it. Works like a charm. I’m in LA listening live right now via iTunes.

  • Annie Smidt

    Not only is Dave Eggers a fabulous writer, but his graphic design (and thinking thereupon) is beautiful. He’s a renaissance man and admirable social entrepreneur — but you get the feeling it’s not “strategic” — he’s just acting authentically, from the heart, making art and making the world better too. From Might magazine through today, he’s been a great inspiration to me. I count him along with William Morris as one of my heroes.

  • Mari McAvenia

    A question for Mr. Eggers:

    Will Burl Cain, the overseer of “Camp Greyhound”, be prosecuted for his crimes against Mr. Zeitoun?

  • B Welch

    Fantastic show.. Leave it to a great author and On Point to bring to light what is unknown .. I am saddend by Mr. Zeitoun’s experience but am glad to learn of it .

  • Jim

    this story should be mandatory listening materials for americans that “demand” business owners and any american citizens in general to show “patriotic” feelings after 9/11, especially showing american flags outside of stores. what is most patriotic is helping the helpless in trying times with or without flag wrapping. that implies to non-citizens who helped american as well. i’m glad this story is reported.

  • Mari McAvenia

    For those who are interested in learning more about the career of Zeitoun’s captor, please read this:

  • Michael

    What happened to the other men arrested with Zeitoun?

  • jorge riveros

    Great program!!! I’m going to buy this book as soon as posible. My question will be how many others stories have been hidden from the people of the U.S.A.? My feelings of what i heard on the radio made me almost cry and I wish the persons in charge are prosecuted as soon as posible. (please make a movie about it.)

  • http://www.att.net James E. Jones

    I am James,the problem with Army National Guard
    units,they are not trained properly to encounter such
    destruction as Katrina.There was a problem in South
    Carolina when hurrican hugo hit.I was on active duty
    at that time,and there were complaints about the guard
    and the local police being cruel to african americans.
    The guard is local and mostly whites without
    college degrees,and do not care for people of color and
    I know that for sure. Active duty soldiers are better trained and qualified for this type of mission. The 82n Airborne,10TH Mountain etc.These unit are professional soldiers, not week-inn warriors

  • Mike

    amazing show i was shocked and sad what i heard, but at least when times were tough he helped his fellow americans.

  • Ann

    Excuse me? Was this whole story just an opportunity for Dave Eggers fans to gush on about his fantastic social entrepreneurialism, his superb writing, his love of children, his all-around greatness. Or better yet, I NEED that book NOW, before I go on vacation! What about the actual people involved? Mr. Zeitoun was effectively disappeared. What about our responsibility as citizens of a country where this could happen? The story was incredibly disturbing–but the responses to it suggests how we got there in the first place. It sounds like this piece will sell a lot of books, but let’s get real–that’s NOT the Point.

  • http://www.onpointradio.org Alyssa

    I find it very sad that a story like this one about such a miscarriage of justice elicits so few comments from listeners. Maybe that is because Mr. Zeitoun’s experience at Camp Greyhound is at odds with the narrative that we have for ourselves as Americans. According to the american dream Mr. Zeitoun should succeed and be rewarded for all his hard work, not be falsely imprisoned and denied his constitutional rights. I read an article once that said that the antidote to American foreign policy in the Middle East has always been the actual experience of America and Americans themselves who are very open and welcoming. The article also suggested that we lost much of that after 9/11. The context was different but I think that the implications of Mr. Zeitoun’s situation are the same. It is very dangerous for the American way of life that we would treat any of our immigrant citizens in this manner simply because of their country of birth.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maher_Arar Norman Fenn

    “Bonus pater familias”;
    being your brother’s keeper;
    police and officials that serve and protect… with respect;
    universal healthcare;
    Christian values (not forgeting that Muslims also follow the teachings of Jesus).

    The lack of these in the U.S.;
    the threat of being rendered, ironically enough, to Syria for a year of torture (Maher Arar);
    the odd, but too frequent, case of refusal of service in restaurants when I’m overheard speaking a “ferin” language… even though I am blond and blue eyed and speak unaccented English/American…

    all reasons to stay far away from the States and it’s Reach for the Bottom culture.

    You reap what you sow.

  • joshua

    “CONSPIRACY THEORISTS” have been saying for years that FEMA was a prelude to somekind of militant American round-up nazi style with concentration camps and such–they’ve been saying FEMA would be used as the lance to break the American people when fascism and the new world order was ushered in. They said long before 911. I thought it was nonsense, but now we see that may conspiracies are really just logic. Next time you are in a strom or disaster–get of town–not because of the storm–but because FEMA and the HOmeland fascist are coming ot lock up all humanitarians,and dissenters.

  • joshua

    Why inst there more rage?!–why don’t we march on Washington and put those Nazis in the congress and the white house in cages. Your government sees you as the enemy, beats, tortures, and locks you up in an emergency! bails out fascist earth destruction corporations, denies pursuit of happiness and equality, permits insurance companies to act as death panels and takes out life insurance policies on you calling you dead peasants. it wages war all over the world against the world–doesn’t it remind you of something? Nazi Germany! it is now a tyrannical government-we are meant to replace it.

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