In 2009, Dave Eggers published a book called Zeitoun, the story of a man and his family experiencing Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.
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.
The story has taken an unexpected turn since its publication. The protagonist of the story, Abdulrahman Zeitoun, is currently on trial for the attempted first-degree murder of his wife.
Zeitoun made an offer: $20,000 to kill his ex-wife, Kathy, according to Pugh’s testimony. Zeitoun instructed Pugh, who was to be released soon from jail, to call Kathy Zeitoun — Zeitoun allegedly wrote her phone number on an envelope, which was introduced as evidence — and ask to see one of the family’s rental properties. When she took him to a certain property in Algiers, he could kill her there, he allegedly said. Zeitoun also allegedly told Pugh to buy a “throwaway phone” and take pictures to confirm she was dead.
Update: Zeitoun was found not guilty.
Abdulrahman Zeitoun was found not guilty Tuesday of trying to hire a hitman to kill his wife.
The verdict came from Orleans Parish Criminal District Court Judge Frank Marullo. Zeitoun, 55, had waived his right to a jury trial. He had been charged with solicitation of first-degree murder and attempted first-degree murder of his ex-wife. He was acquitted on both counts.
The movie rights to Dave Eggers’ Zeitoun have been purchased by Jonathan Demme, who wants to make an animated movie out of it.
Dave Eggers has a new book out soon called Zeitoun.
When Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a prosperous 47-year-old Syrian-American and father of four, chose to stay through the storm to protect his house and contracting business. In the days after the storm, he traveled the flooded streets in a secondhand canoe, passing on supplies and helping those he could. A week later, on September 6, 2005, Zeitoun abruptly disappeared. Eggers’s riveting nonfiction book, three years in the making, explores Zeitoun’s roots in Syria, his marriage to Kathy — an American who converted to Islam — and their children, and the surreal atmosphere (in New Orleans and the United States generally) in which what happened to Abdulrahman Zeitoun was possible. Like What Is the What, Zeitoun was written in close collaboration with its subjects and involved vast research — in this case, in the United States, Spain, and Syria.
The Rumpus has a long interview with Eggers about the book.
The book took about three years, and the Zeitouns were deeply involved in every step of the process. So we spent a lot of time together in New Orleans, and over the phone, and via email. And I was able to go to Syria and meet Abdulrahman’s family there, and spent some time with his brother Ahmad, a ship captain in Spain. Ahmad was a wealth of information and is a meticulous record-keeper. I had to get to know the whole extended family, because Abdulrahman’s life before New Orleans figures into the story, too. I had to go to Syria and see where he grew up, and visit the ancestral home of the family, on this island off the coast, Arwad Island.
Eggers also talks a little bit about the newspaper prototype that McSweeney’s is doing this fall.