Thursday, July 16, 2009
Tonight I was on a panel with Dave Eggers and Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun at the Garden District Bookstore. Kathy and Zeitoun are the subjects of Eggers' new book, Zeitoun. Eggers conducted a Q and A with Kathy and Zeitoun and then gave me a chance to talk about how Zeitoun's experience in the criminal justice system reflects a generally collapsed and dysfunctional system, something that I experience in my work as a lawyer and which I have written about for The Nation and elsewhere. (There have been some bright spots in the recovery, like the great, post-Katrina Orleans Public Defender which provides real adversarial vigor to the system, but, generally, the system is still a mess.)
The Zeitoun's story is close to my heart. I sat on their couch and listened to them described their post-Katrina travails while conducting some of the initial interviews of them for the McSweeney's Voices from the Storm book and included a thumbnail of their story in Down in New Orleans. But Eggers managed to tell this story, an ugly convergence of the war on terror, mass incarceration, and one of America's worst disasters, in a balanced, non-polemical book that gave the Zeitoun's story the treatment it deserved.
Zeitoun and Kathy are great people and terrific New Orleanians but I think that Eggers' Zeitoun has also made them emblematic literary portraits that may serve to explicate a more dynamic picture of the Muslim American experience.