Eggers explores the lives of not a typical New Orleans couple, yet in their individuality, they become a kind of everyman. Zeitoun, born in Syria in a fishing village, spent ten years on the high seas before settling in New Orleans and marrying Kathy, a 21 year old Moslem convert from Baton Rouge. Together they raise 3 children of their own, as well as a son from Kathy's prior marriage. Zeitoun and Kathy run a mom and pop construction business , very much a part of the American dream........until Katrina.
Zeiton stays behind to care for the business, while Kathy and the children exit the city. Zeiton takes a canoe that he'd bought years ago out on the flooded waters of New Orleans and begins rescuiing people, he even feeds four abandoned dogs. He's a hero. But then he's arrested by FEMA agents and spends a month behind bars in a torturous setting that you wouldn't have believed was happening in the U.S. of A. Meanwhile Kathy has lost touch with him and believes that he's dead.
Not only do we get a bird's eye view of the bungled handling of government rescue efforts, but we also bear witness to a bungled judicial system that was enacted to deal with looting, but which was greviously mismanaged.
Eggers' gift is his ability to set the reader right down in the flood water and muck, so that he feels as though he's actually living this ordeal.
The love between Zeiton and Kathy comes through, as well as the love of Zeitoun's older brother who lives in Spain. The sense of caring among members of the Moslem community during this ordeal is also well brought forth.