This amazing book is the true story of Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a successful Muslim building contractor living with his family in New Orleans when Cyclone Katrina hit. Zeitoun's wife Kathy left New Orleans with their children, but Zeitoun chose to stay behind and the book is about what happens to him in the weeks after Katrina strikes. The first half of the book is about the storm and his first week in the flooded city. Zeitoun paddles about in a canoe, helping others where he can. Then he disappears, and Eggers shifts to Kathy's point of view. From this point, the tension rapidly builds and the book becomes increasingly difficult to put down.
Post-Katrina, New Orleans was effectively a city under martial law, with the enforcers - many from outside the city - getting increasingly frenzied by media reports of looting, rape and murder. There's a quote at the start of the book that "to a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail" - to them, every person looked like a looter, even an elderly woman retrieving a packet of sausages from her own car. The system was so screwed that they prioritised building a temporary prison ahead of feeding their citizens and providing them with essential services.
It's a very simply written but immensely readable book. Eggers tells us what people were thinking and how they were feeling, but largely resists passing judgement on the situation, allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions. I tore through it, feeling increasingly angry and disbelieving at what Zeitoun was going through and how this could be happening in a major US city in 2005. While the book is about a specific situation, it also gets you thinking about how easily things can spin out of control and how easy it is to be the wrong person in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is an eye opening and important story, powerfully told.