Zeitoun, as Abdulrahman is addressed in the novel, remains in the city during the storm away from his family.
His experience at sea gives him an insight into his present and he knows he has been chosen for this task. The Hurricane Katrina in particular plays a vital role as it affects the lives of many characters especially Zeitoun’s. Being away from family Zeitoun struggles in the sunken city with his canoe helping people out of the mess the storm had caused and checking on his properties. Kathy meanwhile is under great pressure from her relatives who show no respect for her religious practices such as her “hijab” and urge her to have pork. Without Zeitoun she is all alone with her children in what may seem to be a hurricane, much greater than Katrina. Zeitoun continues working hard making himself available as much as he could, feeding abandoned dogs and helping the others in need.
He feels that this is a task that God has deliberately put him in so he should give it his best shot. If the storm did not occur, he would have been united with his family trying to cope with their personal issues. The hurricane brought with it a test for the people of New Orleans and exposed the brutalities of the government. Kathy manages to escape from her relatives and goes to live with her Muslim friends in Phoenix with her children. Kathy and Zeitoun talk to each other through a phone connection that is still working in one of their properties. The calls suddenly stop to Kathy’s surprise and she does not hear from her husband for many days thinking he has died. Then she learns that Zeitoun and three of his friends have been arrested. Unfortunately they were accused of being terrorists
. Zeitoun receives this favor from the government for helping people in the hard time during the hurricane and the brutality which follows leaves the readers to wonder what wrong Zeitoun had done to deserve such a treatment. “The country he had left thirty years ago had been a realistic place. There were political realities there, then and now, that precluded blind faith… always, would work out fairly and equitably. But he had come to believe such things in the United States. Things had worked out. Difficulties had been overcome. He had worked hard and achieved success. The machinery of government functioned. …–the policy, the military, the prisons–that was meant to protect people like him was devouring anyone who got close.” (Egger 2010) The politics and nature seem to be working so closely in the novel that one wonders if both were part of the same plot.
The hurricane and the war on terror coincided in the United States so much so that both took the lives of the innocents some way or the other. Zeitoun is forced to stay in a Guantanamo-style jail behind a bus station where he is suspected and informed by the guards that he is a terrorist. a piece of information that he himself is surprised to hear. On being returned to his family he looks like “a sad old man” who has lost nearly twenty pounds of weight. Zeitoun still believes that God had His way of testing him (Egger 2010). The test seems to be a two-way deal. It did not only test a random Syrian painting contractor who lived in New Orleans, it also tested the nation’s ability to protect its own people. The story of Zeitoun spells the sorry state of affairs that the nation was undergoing.
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