Guest Column: Zeitoun arrest should not cast shadow on book's messages

The Newtonite

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Pastor Richard Malmberg of the Second Church in Newton spoke during Zeitoun Day Friday, Oct. 14. For the summer reading initiative “Two Schools, One Book,” students read “Zeitoun.”

by Nicky Kaufman

You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and you shouldn’t judge a person by the way they are portrayed in a book.

Recently, a police report surfaced containing some rather shocking news. Abdulrahman Zeitoun, the main character from the Dave Egger’s book Zeitoun, had beaten his wife, according to The Smoking Gun, an online website that posts public records.

Zeitoun was arrested and charged with domestic assault and battery. He was sentenced to six months in jail and two years of probation.

Zeitoun’s arrest is darkly ironic. In the book, he is shown as a man that acted in the best of ways in the face of Hurricane Katrina. Zeitoun is portrayed as a savior of New Orleans, a man that consistently worked to help others and who did no wrong.

While others looted the city, he is portrayed as performing good deeds, such as helping an elderly lady trapped in her house and feeding dogs that had been abandoned by their owners.

However, readers must take into account that, although the book is nonfiction, the story is told by Eggers. It is very well possible that, during Hurricane Katrina, Zeitoun was not always as calm and collected as the book showed him to be. In addition, it is very well possible that he and his wife, Kathryn Zeitoun, were not always as loyal and devoted to each other as the book portrays them to be.

 Eggers may have romanticized Abdulrahman Zeitoun and Kathryn Zeitoun’s relationship in his second-hand account of their lives. He may have also exaggerated the compassionate actions Zeitoun took in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.

One must remember that, even if  Zeitoun exaggerates the story of Abdulrahman Zeitoun, the events that happened in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina and the following months certainly were not exaggerated.

The government did not help people who needed help, they incarcerated people who committed no crime and they profiled people. The way that the government acted violated the rights upon which this country was founded. Zeitoun reveals the distastrous way in which the government acted in response to Hurricane Katrina.

Abdulrahman Zeitoun’s  story as its portrayed in Zeitoun may have been romanticized and exaggerated, but that does not mean that the events that happened in New Orleans during and after Hurricane Katrina. The ways in which the government responded were sluggish and wrong, and Zeitoun is a vehicle to publicize that.