Zeitoun Discussion Questions

These Discussion Questions were created by One Book One New Paltz Committee Members: Maryann Fallek, Melanie Strell and Linda Welles

Some Questions about the Narrative

  1. In what ways, are the Zeitouns, a “typical” American family? How are they “atypical?
  2. Why has Eggers included information about Abdulrahman’s life in Syria, especially the information about his brothers: Mohammed and Ahmad?  How does this history influence his personality,character and behavior?
  3. Is Abdulrahman a hero? Explain.
  4. Why did Abdulrahman decide to stay in New Orleans?
  5. Why was Abdulrahman arrested?
  6. If you were he, would you have made a similar decision?
  7. If you were Abdulrahman’s wife, how would you have felt and responded to his desire and subsequent decision to stay in New Orleans?
  8. How did Abdulrahman’s motives for staying in New Orleans change over time and why did they change?
  9. What do you learn about Abdulrahman as his story progresses? What do you learn about his wife, Kathy, as the story progresses?
  10. How would you rank order the significance of pain and loss in the book: physical, financial and emotional? Explain.
  11. Explain your rank order of the following relationships in terms of the tension and revelation that they created for you, as a reader of this book: Individual against nature; Individual against individual; Individual against self.
  12. Abdulrahman’s imprisonment includes many injustices. Why did these injustices happen to him? What do you learn about him, as a result of this experience?
  13. How does his experience impact his personality, character and behavior? How does this experience affect his wife, Kathy, and their children?
  14. What is the significance of his not being permitted one telephone call? Is this a serious injustice? Explain. How would his experience have been different if he had been allowed this call? How was his family impacted by his inability to make this one telephone call?
  15. Respond to this quote: “But that he had to watch, helpless, knowing how depraved it was–this was punishment for the other prisoners, too. It diminished the humanity of them all.” p. 246.
  16. Did you like this book? Explain. How did you feel after finishing it? What did you learn by reading this book? Would you recommend this book to others?
  17. What is your opinion about the One Book One New Paltz Committee’s choice of Zeitoun for OB 2010? Explain.
Some Craft Questions

  1. Explain some drawbacks to relying on personal narratives as a source of information.
  2. What is the value of giving voice to those who have experienced such injustices?
  3. Does Zeitoun contribute to our understanding of history?
  4. What is your opinion of Eggers’ approach to writing about traumatic regional and political events through the lives of individuals impacted by them?
  5. What is Eggers’ purpose in writing this book? How successful is he in achieving this purpose?
  6. Would you have preferred to have learned about this historical event from a different non-fiction format?
  7. Explain the sequential structure of the book. Why was this particular sequence selected? Which time periods are given the most attention? Why did the author make these particular choices? How do these choices impact the book? If you were the author of this book, would you have followed a similar structure and emphasis?
  8. Why are Kathy’s experiences with religious prejudice and discrimination included early on in the story?
  9. Why is the book titled: Zeitoun?

Some Larger Picture Questions

  1. What are some sources of prejudice and discrimination?
  2. Why do some groups frequently suffer such injustices more than others?
  3. Why do crises repeatedly lead to restrictions of civil liberties and rights? What other crises in our history also led to restrictions on civil liberties and rights?
  4. What can be done to prevent similar violations of human rights in the future?
  5. What is the role and responsibility of the federal government when such disasters occur?
  6. What role did ethnicity and class play in the political response to the Katrina disaster?
  7. What is the relationship between 9-11 and this narrative?
  8. How much prejudice exists against Muslims in America today?
  9. Who tend to be the victims in such crises, as Hurricane Katrina?
  10. Should people be compensated for the injustices that they have experienced? Why or why not? If yes, how should they be compensated and who should compensate them?
  11. How were your views of human nature affected by this book?

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