Dave Eggers is one of the most beloved and be-prized writers in America, known not only for his own work, but for his publishing efforts — McSweeney’s is perhaps the best new publisher to arrive during the small-house explosion of recent decades — and for his activist work — the 826 after-school tutoring programs around the country, the Voices of Witness project, and others.
Zeitoun is the story of Abdelrahman Zeitoun, a Syrian-born citizen in New Orleans, who heroically rescues people and pets during Hurricane Katrina, but is picked up by Homeland Security shortly thereafter, and swept away, with no notice to his family, into the maws of the anti-terrorism machine, where he is abused for a month before being freed. Eggers represents him as a loving, kind, quiet family man, which people are now having trouble with reconciling this with the man who is now imprisoned for beating his wife with a tire iron, and who was recently indicted for ordering a hit on her and another man from his prison cell.
On the heels of the James Frey hoo-ha, the Mike Daisy scandal, and John D’Agata’s unrepentant championing of bending the truth in nonfiction, this episode brings up a series of old and new ethical issues. Jon Robin Baitz’s play, Other Desert Cities, now downtown at the Taper, is a very interesting examination of this topic as well, showing that even when a writer tries to represent their own family in nonfictional form, they often cannot get it right at all.
For more, see Victoria Patterson’s piece in Los Angeles Review of Books.