“Zeitoun” author comes to UK

By Geoff Giancarlo

Whether they read it or not, chances are students have had an encounter with Dave Eggers’ novel “Zeitoun.”

The book was given to freshmen for free at summer advising conferences as part of the Common Reading Experience program. Several events this year have been centered around the themes and setting of the book.

The story is a tale of hope and the enduring nature of family about an Islamic man and his family, their experiences with Hurricane Katrina, and the subsequent confusion that took hold of New Orleans. These themes are right at home with the rest of Eggers’ books, “A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius,” the autobiographical novel “What is the What,” and the recent film adaptation of “Where the Wild Things Are.”

The book arose from a project that Eggers started after Hurricane Katrina: Voices from the Storm, which chronicled different experiences of the disaster in a sort of oral history. When Eggers came upon the Zeitoun family story, he was so taken with it, that he expanded it into a full-length book.

Now UK students will have the opportunity to hear from Mr. Eggers himself, as he gives a lecture in the concert hall of the Singletary Center Monday at 7 p.m. This is one of many stops on a large lecture circuit that Eggers has been completing recently, with stops at institutions such as Tulane University, Michigan State, and Washington State University.

Many colleges have used “Zeitoun” as their Common Reading Experience book, although UK was the first to decide on it.

“We thought about using ‘What is the What’ a few years ago, but decided it was too lengthy,” said CRE coordinator Michelle Ashcraft in a phone interview. “This year Meg Marquis in the Honors Program suggested ‘Zeitoun.’”

The book was also selected by UCLA, Tulane University, and LSU as their CRE book.

“The book dealt with diverse themes that students could discuss in their small groups, and it pertained to a lot of the goals we have as a university,” Ashcraft said.

Ashcraft felt good about the feedback the book has received.

“Overall there has been great feedback this year. Many thought that the beginning was a little slow with explanation, but once the main event happened, it became a real page-turner.” Forestry freshman, Blake Grigsby agreed.

“It was slow because it took a few chapters to really get to know ‘Zeitoun,’ but got better halfway through when it became more suspenseful. The book was good in that it gave another side to see that intolerance of Muslims isn’t right.”

Even though the CRE program is directed towards freshmen, all are encouraged to attend the lecture on Monday. Ashcraft said that while Mr. Eggers will talk about the book, he will also talk about his oral history project and what we can learn from accounts of first hand experience.