Monday, July 27, 2009


Zeitoun, the new nonfiction work by Dave Eggers, is a book that reads like a movie. As I read it, I could easily see the places where the plotline would switch or a camera would cut away to a new scene. This is of note because Eggers and his wife just cowrote the film Away We Go. I was disappointed in that movie, so I was eager to see what his latest book would be like.

Zeitoun is the story of a Muslim man and his family in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. A lot could be say from a political and social point of view about this book, but I’ll just stick to the writing, which I thought was well constructed and nicely paced. It kept me reading and it kept me interested. What I did think was missing, however, was Eggers’ signature brand of self-conscious wit. I have two theories about why this may have been lacking. First, it could be that he wanted to portray the true-life characters as accurately as possible and saw his usually humor as something that would stand in the way of this. He previous book, What is the What, also told the story of a real person, a Sudanese refugee, but in fictionalized form. I think that book struck a perfect balance between portraying a unique character while still retaining a bit of Eggers’ typical voice. If I had read a passage from that book blindly, I still might have guessed that it was Eggers’ writing. I can’t say the same for Zeitoun. Perhaps positioning it as a work of pure nonfiction forced him to reign in his own voice as much as possible.

My second hypothesis is that the tone of this book could be a result of his writing style maturing over time. What I enjoy so much about his earlier works is his self-conscious humor, and the subsequent literary tricks he uses to portray a self-consciousness about being self-conscious. Logically, it makes sense that this kind of perspective would be characteristic of a younger writer, something that Eggers is moving farther away from as time goes by. I guess I’ll just have to wait and see what his next book brings. And even more interestingly, what his next book will be about. Will he continue this tactic of writing about people and issues he want to raise awareness about? I must say, I probably would not have picked up a nonfiction book about this topic if it was written by a random reporter, but I will continue to pick up anything by Dave Eggers to see what he’s writing about next.

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