The next morning Zeitoun notices that it is still strangely quiet. He daydreams about his family’s home on Arwad Island, with its constant sun and warm white light, where he and his brothers would chase chickens and scare seagulls around the island’s perimeter. He and his brother Ahmad would wave at the sailors docked at port.
Once again, it is during his sleeping hours that Zeitoun allows himself to return to his past, plumbing the memories of his childhood in Syria, which here seem tinged with nostalgia for a simpler, more carefree time—when the sea was a beautiful, benevolent thing, instead of a source of disaster.
Ahmad always knew he would be a sailor, though he kept this hidden from his father. Abdulrahman (Zeitoun) admired his older brother and followed him around everywhere, learning from him how to spear a fish and row a boat alone.
Despite Mahmoud’s desire that his sons not follow his own dangerous career paths, they all seem to have been drawn to the sea in one way or another.
Arwad Island had been home to a thriving fishing industry for centuries. Sea powers from the Phoenicians and ancient Greeks to the Crusaders, Mongols, and, later, the British, had all taken their turn occupying the island. The brothers often played in the small castle fortresses now in ruins. More often, they would play and swim in the sea, talking of the heroes who had defended the island and of the armies that had stopped here.
Eggers fleshes out a place in the world that many, especially American readers, might have no idea even existed. He shows how Arwad Island, though tiny, has long been at the crossroads of world history. Zeitoun and his brother were clearly fascinated by their own community’s role in this history.
Zeitoun recalls the constant ebb and flow of the Mediterranean, but that sound seems to jar with what he is hearing now: the noise of a streaming river.
Zeitoun’s past and his present suddenly and ominously coincide in this chapter-ending cliffhanger—as the real disaster begins.