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Real-life Science Fiction

May 19, 2011

Dave Eggers is a special kind of author, who can turn a novel into a cry of the human heart for justice. Or vice versa.

I’m reading Zeitoun, a novel released last year. An absolutely fantastic read, a true treatise on a broken America. He has managed to turn the real, the actual events of the recent past, into an apocalyptic story – rivalling the predictions of 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 in its regime and The Road in its universe. How though, does Eggers manage to fill the novel with hope?

Zeitoun’s office was unharmed, but it was no more than twenty feet from the fire. They tested the winds. It was a still night, with heavy humidity. There was no predicting where the fire would go, but it was certain that nothing could stop its course. There was a fire station four blocks away, but it was empty and flooded; there were no firefighters in sight. And with the phones down, with 911 inoperative, there was virtually no way to alert anyone. They could only watch.

Zeitoun and Todd sat in their boat, the heat of the fire pulsing at them. The smell was musky, acrid, and the flames swallowed the homes with remarkable speed. One was an old Victorian Zeitoun had always admired, and a few doors down was a house he had considered buying when it had been on the market a few years earlier. Both homes were devoured in a minute. The pieces disappeared into the dark water, leaving nothing.

The wind was picking up, blowing away from Zeitoun’s office. If there had been any gust in the other direction, his building would have succumbed, too. He thanked God for this small mercy.

As they watched, they glimpsed a few other watchers, faces orange and silent. Other than the crackle of the fire and the occasional collapsing wall or floor, the night was quiet. There were no sirens, no authorities of any kind. Just a block of homes burning and sinking into the obsidian sea that had swallowed the city.

It is like reading science fiction.

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