7.04.2015

what i'm reading: wild by cheryl strayed, zeitoun by dave eggers

I've just finished two truly excellent works of nonfiction: Wild and Zeitoun. Both books read like fiction, with clean, clear writing and page-turning suspense. Both document almost unbelievable, out-sized events, in one case likely unique, in the other - horribly - anything but. I highly recommend both books.

I didn't expect to like Wild. Something about the phrase "best-selling memoir" just turns me off. But when the book was chosen as one of my Library's "Raves and Faves," I was intrigued. Those are always excellent books. (I'm quite proud that all five of my Raves and Faves suggestions made the list!)

Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail is a story of perseverance and redemption. Her life unhinged, battered by loss and confusion, the author decides to undertake a wilderness backpacking expedition. This is no casual walk in the woods; she's chosen a trail for which experienced backpackers may spend a year in training and research. Strayed is completely inexperienced and almost comically unprepared - comic, that is, if the consequences of failure weren't potentially life-threatening. At several points in the book, I thought, "Well, she must survive, because she wrote this book...".

Wild is suspenseful, moving, sad, uplifting, heartrending, and joyous. I was filled with wonder at this woman's strength, tenacity, and resilience. Wild left me contemplating that potential in all of us.

Zeitoun is also a nonfiction page-turner. It's almost impossible to write about Zeitoun without spoiling it, and the way in which the story unfolds gives it tremendous power. Perhaps most people reading this review already know the terrible punchline.

Zeitoun is the story of one man's, and one family's, ordeal during and after Hurricane Katrina. It is a story that sits at the intersection of two American nightmares: Katrina and the post-9/11 police state.

It is an answer to every person who feels "police state" and "fascism" are hyperbole when applied to the United States. In truth, that depends on your zip code, your skin colour, and your last name.

Considering I last visited New Orleans in 1992, I have a strangely personal relationship with Hurricane Katrina. August 30, 2005, the day Katrina hit New Orleans, was one of the most momentous days of my life: the day my partner and I moved to Canada. As with any move of this magnitude, we were unplugged from the world - no TV, no internet - for a couple of days before, and at least two days after. When we were back online, I struggled to take in the magnitude of what had happened. No matter how much we read, I felt like I never caught up.

In the 10 years since, in any story about the Katrina disaster, the dates jump out at me. I can picture us clearly, driving The World's Fullest Minivan, my beloved Buster between us, Cody hunkered in a cave in the back, starting our new life. Right at those moments, tens of thousands of lives were shattered, ruined, or ended.

The Zeitouns' story is compelling, heroic, and deeply frightening. If you've ever been inclined to think, "That wouldn't happen here," or "But they would never do that", know that it did, and they already have.

As with What Is The What, Dave Eggers is using proceeds from this book to fund many very important and worthwhile causes. I highly recommend picking up a copy.

4 comments:

Kristina H said...

Thanks for these reviews. I started Wild and it didn't appeal to me at all, maybe I just wasn't in the mood for it. I will give Zeitoun a try at some point now that you've given it an interesting review!

laura k said...

Kristina, you've reminded me that I didn't like Wild when I first started either! (I should edit the review accordingly.) It took a couple of chapters for me to get into, but well worth it.

Amy said...

In your first paragraph about Zeitoun you referred to it as a novel. Mistake? Thanks for the reviews.

laura k said...

Yes, mistake! Thanks! Force of habit, correcting now.