It’s August 25, 2005. No one takes the warning for the coming hurricane Katrina serious. Neither do Zeitoun and his wife, Kathy. They live in New Orleans, together they have three kids and they own a painting contractor business. It seems to become a normal day; the kids go to school and both Zeitoun and Kathy go to work.
When it becomes clear that Katrina is going to be really heavy, Kathy urges Zeitoun to evacuate. He agrees on Kathy and the kids going to her family in Baton Rouge, but he wants to stays to keep an eye on their house.
In the first part of the book, we learn about Zeitouns past thstablerough a series of flashbacks. He is from Syria. Before he settled down in New Orleans and married Kathy, he worked as a sailor for many years. He had built a stable and both socially and financially successful life.
In the second part of the book, Katrina hits New Orleans. Zeitoun tried to prepare his house for the storm, but he wasn’t prepared for what he finds outside. His whole neighbourhood is under water. The water is 9 feet high. He paddles around the city in a canoe trying to help people.
In the third part you switch over to Kathy, she is worried about Zeitoun. But they call on a daily basis, which keeps Kathy’s fear at bay. She tries to convince him to leave, but he believes he is on a holy mission, so he refuses.
Back in New Orleans, Zeitoun runs into two friends, who also decided to stay in the city. They work together to rescue people, but the city is becoming more and more dangerous.
You switch over to Kathy again. Zeitoun hasn’t called in two weeks and she is very worried. She and Zeitoun’s brother even think he is dead. But then she gets a call, not from Zeitoun, but from an anonymous missionary. He tells her that Zeitoun is kept in Hunt Correctional Facility.
You find out that Zeitoun and his friends were arrested, because the police thought they were terrorists, due to Zeitouns Syrian appearance. They were brought to a prison located in a bus station, called Grayhound Bay. The circumstances there were horrible.. After a while they were transferred to Hunt Correctional Facility. Here Zeitoun finds a priest who promises him to call Kathy.
When Kathy finally gets the call, she is able to post bail, using their office building as collateral. Soon after, the charges against him are dropped. Although they both suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome, they refuse to leave New Orleans. They stay and rebuild their house and life together.
What makes this book special? First of all, the writer confronts you with a lot of contemporary problems, such as the fear of terrorism in America, discrimination and prejudice. What also makes it special is that it is told from the perspective of a non American. Zeitoun meets a lot of prejudice but despites all that, he still wants to save the city and the people.
But it is also very touching and eccentric because it is a true story. You can easily imagine how he was paddling around, and how he much suffered, all due to prejudice and discrimination.