Through the story of one man’s experience after Hurricane Katrina, Eggers draws an indelible picture of Bush-era crisis management. Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a successful Syrian-born painting contractor, decides to stay in New Orleans and protect his property while his family flees. After the levees break, he uses a small canoe to rescue people, before being arrested by an armed squad and swept powerlessly into a vortex of bureaucratic brutality. When a guard accuses him of being a member of Al Qaeda, he sees that race and culture may explain his predicament. Eggers, compiling his account from interviews, sensibly resists rhetorical grandstanding, letting injustices speak for themselves. His skill is most evident in how closely he involves the reader in Zeitoun’s thoughts. Thrown into one of a series of wire cages, Zeitoun speculates, with a contractor’s practicality, that construction of his prison must have begun within a day or so of the hurricane.
The New York Times Book Review
"the stuff of great narrative fiction," and critics agreed that Eggers tells Zeitoun's tragic story without the postmodern trickery and tirades he has exhibited in previous works. Instead, he allows the story to tell itself while imbuing Zeitoun's tragedy with deep sympathy and emotion. Although Eggers didn't witness Hurricane Katrina's devastation firsthand, he captures the experience through Zeitoun's eyes and approaches his subject very intimately. A few critics noted that while this perspective was convincing, it required "faith on the part of the reader that everything in the book happened as it appears here" (San Francisco Chronicle
). But this was a minor complaint in an overall unforgettable story.