This remarkable novel tells the true story of a Syrian-American immigrant and his family, caught in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Please note that my review will include a few spoilers, so stop reading now if you don't want major plot points to be revealed.
Abdelrahman Zeitoun is the manager of a highly-successful renovation company in the New Orleans area, as well as a loving father of three children. His wife, Kathy, helps him run the business, answering phones and acting as the impromptu office staff. As Hurricane Katrina approaches, Kathy makes the decision to evacuate with the Zeitoun children, insisting that Zeitoun leave as well. However, his bull-headedness gets the better of him, and he decides to stay. When the floodwaters rise, he decides to use an old metal canoe to travel across the flooded city and rescue whoever he can find. After rescuing several individuals with the aid of a neighbour who supplies a motorboat, he is falsely arrested for "looting" in the ruins of his own home. A series of unfortunate twists results in him and his "partners-in-crime" being kept in an area designated for escaped convicts. They are denied any contact with the outside world, medical treatment for injuries, or even legal advice, and were essentially treated as though they were convicted terrorists. Throughout this whole ordeal, Kathy, several hundred miles away, is attempting to determine what happened to Zeitoun. Eventually, Zeitoun is released, but with no reparations or so much as an apology on the government's part.
This novel provides an insightful perspective on the treatment of Arab-Americans in a post-9/11 United States, as well as the government's mismanagement of the response to Hurricane Katrina. It's a provocative, powerful story that will leave the reader asking themselves how something like this could happen here, in the United States, a country that prides itself on freedom and rights for its citizens.