Zeitoun: Important quotes with page
1. “… in the history of the world it might even be that there was more punishment than crime… ” (Introduction). This quote, taken from Cormac McCarthy, highlights the narrative’s central concern: how Zeitoun, an innocent man, could be punished for a crime he didn’t commit in the present day and age, and in the name of justice.
2. “To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail” (Introduction). This introductory quote sets the tone for narrative. As a builder, Zeitoun sees problems simply as projects, things that need to be fixed. This characterizes his initial approach to the flood too. People need help, so he will stay behind and help them.
3. “His frustration with some Americans was like that of a disappointed parent. He was so content in this country, so impressed with and loving of its opportunities, but then why, sometimes, did Americans fall short of their best selves? ” (Chapter 1, p. 37). Zeitoun is forced to ask this question time and again throughout the narrative, especially when he’s incarcerated for a crime he hasn’t committed. He believes in both the system and his country, but time and again he’s shown that something is broken, that America’s progress as a nation is slow, sometimes too slow.
This quote highlights that Zeitoun isn’t angered or upset by this; he simply wants his adopted country to be the best it can be, as a parent does for a child.
4. “In late September, she was in Walgreens when she finally saw a woman in a hijab. She ran to her. ‘Salaam alaikum! ’ she said, taking the woman’s hands. The woman, a doctor studying at Tulane, had been feeling the same way, like an exile in her own country, and they laughed at how delirious they were to see each other” (Chapter 1, p. 46). A telling quote in that Kathy, an American Muslim, felt like an exile in her own country due to the intolerance that was bred as a result of 9/11.
5. “She had become part of the exodus without entirely registering the enormity and strangeness of it” (Chapter 2, p. 56). Though Kathy made plans to evacuate to Baton Rouge with her kids, she hadn’t actually thought about the enormity of a forced evacuation. And like others, she had only planned to be away for a day or two. It seems no one really thought about the hurricane’s potential for destruction and displacement. This sentiment is noted by Zeitoun as well, when he mentions the number of abandoned animals in New Orleans.
6. “She was frustrated that she hadn’t known any of this, that she’d been blind to the faith of a billion or so people. How could she not know these things? ” (Chapter 2, p. 62). Kathy’s conversion to Islam showed her how much she didn’t know about it. Likewise, it showed Kathy how incorrect all of the assumption she previously held about Islam were. This quote highlights how easy it is to have incorrect assumptions about religions, places and people.
7. “His grandmother had stayed put during countless storms in her home on Arwad Island, and he planned to do the same. A home was worth fighting for” (Chapter 3, p. 70). This quote highlights the importance of home to Zeitoun. He’s been surrounded by love and support his entire life, and his home is a great source of pride and happiness. He doesn’t want to abandon his home; as a builder, a husband and a father, he wants to fight for his home.
8. “Todd offered them beers. Zeitoun passed. Frank accepted and sat on the porch steps while Zeitoun went inside” (Chapter 5, p. 107). As with Kathy realizing her assumptions about Islam were wrong, this quote highlights the widespread ignorance about Islam in America. As a Muslim, Zeitoun doesn’t drink. Todd, however, doesn’t realize this, and offers him a beer. Instead of deriding Todd, Zeitoun simply refuses and goes inside.
9. “A time like this could change a man, Zeitoun knew, and he was happy to see it happening here and now to Todd: a good man made better” (Chapter 7, p. 138). Hurricane Katina and its aftermath was a force for change—whether good or bad. Zeitoun tends to see the good in people, and in this quote, he marvels and rejoices in the goodness in man.
10. “Ahmad must have met a thousand people during these trips, chiefly in the pursuit of someone to help him document that Ahmad Zeitoun, of Jableh, Syria, was here. Here in Tokyo. Here in America. Here in India” (Chapter 7, p. 142). Bearing witness is a significant theme in the narrative. Ahmad’s travels are in part to bear witness that he was there, in those places, at that time. The photos he took become part of Zeitoun’s memories as well and perhaps more importantly, of his story.
11. “He could not find a place for the sight in the categories of his mind. The image was from another time, a radically different world. It brought to mind photographs of war, bodies decaying on forgotten battlefields” (Chapter 8, p. 148).
The image of a dead body is one of the first times that Zeitoun is faced with the realities of the flood. He hasn’t yet come into contact with any of the violence or destruction being reported on TV. The corpse is a reminder not only of the destruction wrought by Katrina, but also of the fact that New Orleans was being treated by some government agencies like a forgotten battlefield.
12. “Look above you, at the stars and moon. How do the stars keep their place in the sky, how does the moon rotate around the earth, the earth around the sun? Who’s navigating? ” (Chapter 8, pp. 153-154). This quote sums up Zeitoun’s belief in God when discussing the matter with a ship captain. Instead of shoving his beliefs down the captain’s throat, instead of berating him or deriding him, he gives this simple, yet elegant account of faith and God as it relates to ships and navigation.
13. “She’d had, she later admitted, an antique idea of Syria. She’d pictured deserts, donkeys, and carts—not so many busy, cosmopolitan cities, not so many Mercedes and BMW dealerships lining the highway heading north, not so many women in tight clothes and uncovered hair…she’d assumed Syria was entirely Muslim, but she was wrong about this, and about so many things” (Chapter 10, p. 192). Kathy’s assumptions about Syria and Islam are challenged when she visits her husband’s home county. She thought of Syria as a caricature of itself, not a real place where people lived as many different realities as they do in America.
14. “And as much as he wanted to dismiss both comments, he couldn’t. Now he was sure that there was a grave misunderstanding taking place…” (Chapter 11, p. 213). When Zeitoun is initially arrested, he’s sure there’s been a mistake, one that will be settled before long. His faith in the justice system and his own innocence reassures him that there is no way for the injustice against him and his friends to continue. Yet, when he hears soldiers calling him a terrorist, he knows something is very wrong about his situation.
15. “In one of Todd’s pockets they discovered a small memory chip, the kind used for digital cameras. Todd laughed, explaining that on it were only photos he’d taken of the flood damage. But the authorities were seeing something more” (Chapter 24, p. 215). A sane person would see Zeitoun and Todd as victims of a hurricane who were trying to get their possessions to higher ground, the photos as documentation that damage has occurred. The corrupt military personnel looking for any excuse, however, allowed their minds run wild.
16. “Looking at it, Zeitoun realized that it was not one long cage, but a series of smaller, divided cages. He had seen similar structures before, on the properties of his clients who kept dogs. This cage, like those, was a single-fenced enclosure divided into smaller ones. He counted sixteen. It looked like a giant kennel, and yet it looked even more familiar than that” (Chapter 11, pp. 218-219). The cage at Campy Greyhound reminds Zeitoun of a kennel, and it effectively shows how his humanity was taken away by his imprisonment. Additionally, it reminded Zeitoun of the camp at Guantanamo Bay and how he, too, could easily be whisked off to some secret prison without trial.
17. “Zeitoun convinced himself that the previous day had been an aberration, that today would bring a return to reason and procedure. He would be allowed a phone call…” (Chapter 11, p. 225). Regardless of the injustice around him, Zeitoun holds out hopes that he will be granted his rights eventually. He wants to believe in the strength and justice of the system.
18. “Under any normal circumstances he would have leapt to the defense of a man victimized as that man had been. 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” (Chapter 11, p. 236). Zeitoun’s reluctance to help a fellow human being offers a stark contrast between his attitude before and after his incarceration. He doesn’t know why this is all happening to him, and he wants to be a good person, to help, but he also knows that there seems to be no method to the madness, and he’s afraid now of getting involved. Here, again, it is suggested that imprisonment is a form of dehumanization.
19. “She had not wanted their family to become collateral damage in a war that had no discernible fronts, no real shape, and no rules” (Chapter 12, p. 252). Kathy knows that as Muslims, her family faces constant persecution from intolerant people. At the same time, she doesn’t want her family to be caught up in other people’s misconception about Arabs, especially those soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.
20. “But now nothing worked. Or rather, every piece of machinery—the police, the military, the prisons—that was meant to protect people like him was devouring anyone who got close” (Chapter 13, p. 263). As his wrongful imprisonment continues, Zeitoun begins to lose hope.
He sees the reality of injustice, how an innocent person can be so easily lost in a broken system. It seems so counterintuitive, that those who need help and those who are trying to help are the ones being persecuted.
21. “Kathy fell apart. She wailed and screamed. Somehow this, knowing that her husband was so close but that these layers of bureaucracy and incompetence were keeping her from him—it was too much. She cried out of frustration and rage. She felt like she was watching a baby drown, unable to do anything to save it” (Chapter 14, p. 280).
Kathy finally learns that her husband is alive only to find herself separated from him by more red tape. It isn’t enough that Zeitoun has been wrongfully imprisoned, now she’s being told that she had no right to know her husband’s whereabouts or what is happening to him. The helplessness of the situation, and how easily it can be remedied, is heartbreaking to Kathy, and is a contributing factor to her post-traumatic stress as well.
22. “She pulled back, and his eyes were the same—green, long-lashed, touched with honey—but they were tired, defeated. She had never seen this in him. He had been broken” (Chapter 14, p.289). Having finally freed Zeitoun from imprisonment, Kathy is shocked to see a side of her husband she’s never seen before. He’s defeated, broken and tired. Though physically the same, inside he is very different.
23. “The pain in his side dissipated, and this convinced Zeitoun it had been caused not by anything visible on an X-ray, but by heartbreak, by sorrow” (Chapter 15, p. 296). As Zeitoun had suspected, the pain in his side was the result of a broken heart, from his expectations of his adopted country and its justice system being dashed against the reality of a broken system. The pain leaves, but the knowledge of the injustice will linger long after.
24. “But knowing that Zeitoun’s ordeal was cause instead by systemic ignorance and malfunction—and perhaps long-festering paranoia on the part of the National Guard and whatever other agencies were involved—was unsettling. It said, quite clearly, that this wasn’t a case of a bad apple or two in the barrel. The barrel itself was rotten” (Chapter 15, p. 307). Though Zeitoun and Kathy can say that he wasn’t arrested just for being Syrian and Muslim, knowing that the justice system of American failed its citizens, that corruption ran rampant and an innocent man was made to pay the price, is not much better.
25. “He envisions this city and this country not just as it was, but better, far better. It can be…progress is being made” (Chapter 15, p. 325). Zeitoun still believes in America, and in the progress that’s being made on a daily basis. As a builder, he knows that projects take time, and that America, like any project, needs to be built up and renovated. He believes it will happen, and that everyone has a part in making this happen.