Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Mr B's Reading Year 2010 - Whatever Happened to the Classics (episode 1)

Somewhere along the line I stopped blogging about my year of reading the classics that you'd have thought a bookshop owner had already read. I think it was shortly after I stopped reading them.

Here's what happened......Episode 1.

Still reeling from the miserable experience of reading the first half of Wuthering Heights, my fourth book of the year was a recent book instead of another classic. I read "Zeitoun" by Dave Eggers which is a fascinating, compelling and often depressing account of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath.

At the time of the hurricane the eponymous hero - originally from Syria - was an upstanding member of the New Orleans with an 11-year old building contracting business with an excellent reputation. After sticking out the hurricane in the top floor of his house he took to the deserted waterways that were once the streets of his neighbourhood in a small metal canoe. In those first days after the hurricane he spends his time feeding abandoned dogs, saving neighbours trapped in their homes and checking up on his properties and those of his friends. That is until, whilst making his daily attempt to call home from the one functioning telephone in the area, he is taken into custody by the National Guardsmen who were "helping" "police" the city at that time.

And that's where it gets really ugly. I won't give away the whole sorry saga but suffice to say Zeitoun's incarceration in the hastily constructed bus-station-cum-prison "Camp Greyhound" and then beyond was as long and inhumane as his arrest was sudden and unjust. The story that Eggers has to tell is a shocking and important one and it makes for a gripping read. The style is not overly literary (and there seem to be a few editing glitches in that a number of sentences/phrases are repeated early on) but as a long piece of journalism Zeitoun is superb.

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