I’ve always been fascinated with stories of real-life survival, like those featured in The Reader’s Digest. Zeitoun is one of the best I’ve read of this type of non-fiction. In between the harrowing details of dealing with the storm and the resulting flood, Eggers manages to segue naturally to other life events that are not only entertaining but reveal other fascinating facets of the main characters, and make us care about them more. We grieve over the destruction of their home with them, feel the power of their faith, bask in their exultation at being able to help others, and grow furious for their sake when they unwittingly become the victims of the anti-looting authorities.
Details of such events are easily available from the newspapers and Internet, but simply reading the reports of events we remain observers; whether sympathetic or analytical, knowing only what happened keeps us on the outside, vaguely imagining how we would feel if it happened to us. What differentiates a literary work on an actual disaster is that we are drawn into the actual experience. Every moment of panic or amusing anecdote in Zeitoun becomes more meaningful because we feel a part of the situation. Knowing how people feel and why and observing what they see and experience down to the last detail is what makes this experience real for the reader, and Eggers is masterful at this. His narration is balanced, with just the right amounts of drama and entertainment. He dwells as much on the mundane actions of getting food out of the cupboards, making up a dry bed on the roof, and feeding the neighbor’s pets,as on the title character Zeitoun’s acts of heroism and unlucky encounters.
I read this book after surviving a storm myself (in fact won it from Red Room for my blog "Escape from Floodwaters"--many thanks). I can say that it helped me recover from my harrowing experience just to read about people who've gone through similar experiences and even far worse. Those who've suffered from the effects of Hurricane Sandy and other disasters will probably find it therapeutic to read this book.