Sunday Spotlight On: Zeitoun by Dave Eggers

Zeitoun by Dave Eggers
Published by Vintage Books, an imprint of Random House

Although he now lives in California, Dave Eggers is a Chicago native and, really, a Chicago institution. As such, it pains me to admit that I have never read any of his work. “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius” was, at one point, what every single person from my high school class was raving about on their Facebook page so I did pick it up. Unfortunately, in my first year of teaching for Teach for America in West Englewood, Chicago I did not have the emotional energy to read a new-to-me book about a 22 year-old becoming the guardian of his 8 year-old brother on the death of their parents. That was the year of comfort re-reads, people. I abandoned the book and ended up losing it somewhere I suppose, since it is not on my shelves now. Fast forward a couple of years and I am on LibraryThing and have started blogging, and Eggers makes his way onto my radar again, with “What is the What,” Eggers’ fictionalized memoir of one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. “What is the What” is still on my shelves somewhere, but I have not yet managed to read it.

Egger’s newest book, “Zeitoun” is, I believe, not fated to join its brothers in the realm of books I don’t get to. Like its fictionalized counterpart “City of Refuge” by Tom Piazza, which was one of my favorite books last year, “Zeitoun” tells the story of New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina. I love – if that is the right word – thoughtful books about the travesty and tragedy of Katrina and the indomitable spirit of the people of New Orleans. “Zeitoun,” however, goes one step further and tells a story that sounds even more fascinating: that of a Syrian-American man named Abdulrahman Zeitoun and what happened to him when Hurricane Katrina joined forces with the War on Terror to become the ultimate destructive force. I mean, really, how am I even finishing this sentence without picking up this book? It is Calling. My. Name.

And on that note, I’m going to end this post to go and place “Zeitoun” as close to the top of my TBR pile as I can, in hopes of reading it as soon as humanly possible

Source: Personal copy

Simply from Scratch by Alicia Bessette – Book Review

Simply from Scratch by Alicia Bessette
Published by Dutton Books, an imprint of Penguin

Grief is a funny thing: it can cause a woman who loses her husband, the love of her life, to walk around day after day bra-less, with her deceased husband’s camouflage apron tied over her clothes. This is Zell’s experience, at least, ever since the accident while her husband Nick was in New Orleans reporting on a local team who headed down for recovery efforts.  The grief may also be part of the reason she voices what she imagines to be her dog, Captain Ahab’s, thoughts in pirate vernacular. Although she has rarely ever cooked anything – let alone baked something  – Zell decides to enter the Polly Pinch baking contest when she realizes that the prize money is exactly the amount that Nick talked about raising for the people of New Orleans before he failed to come home. All the remains to be seen is whether this new venture will help her heal or cause her to sink more deeply into her depression.

I have to admit, I was slightly hesitant about “Simply from Scratch” at the beginning. Zell endeared herself greatly to me when she made comments about her newfound eccentricities being just her “widow style.” But then she started saying “balls” all over the place, which sort of shocked me. I wasn’t really expecting this from a widow entering a baking contest. But Zell isn’t your stereotypical widow. She’s a fiesty young woman who has had a terrible, unexpected loss. Although she has real, raw grief, she’s still a fiesty woman – even when it is only expressed by talking a pirate voice for a dog. Although I wasn’t sure what to think of her initially, Zell’s tough-exterior-ed vulnerability made her hugely endearing to me.

Bessette’s writing and plotting were strong. Indeed, I loved the way she slowly revealed what happened to Nick in New Orleans and what gift it was that he left her. But Zell was the real star of the story. Bessette wrote her in such a real way with such real heart that she was hugely endearing and brought me to a point near the end of “Simply from Scratch” where I could simply not bear to put down the book.

Highly recommended.

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