Review: House of Stone by Anthony Shadid

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house of stone coverAt the end of July 2006, Anthony Shadid travels to his grandfather’s house in Lebanon in hopes of restoring it. He uses the house, the surrounding gardens and the town of Marjayoun to share his family history, including their years in Lebanon and the story of how his forebears immigrated to the United States. Their triumphs and heartbreaks echo his own as the rebuilding project he believed would take several months envelops the entire year. That year gives him the opportunity to embrace Arab culture and to get to know the people of Marjayoun.

Shadid’s memoir, House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013) uses his family’s past and the town’s history to chronicle foreign influence in the Middle East. It also captures the daily existence within a troubled region while emphasizing what makes them everyday people. Ghosts fill the book. The house begins as a shadow of its former self, ransacked, once inhabited by squatters. The people of the town also have that phantom quality: a doctor dying of cancer who crafts bonsais and tends Shadid’s garden, the temperamental elderly foreman, and the friend who came to Lebanon and spent his time watching old videos from his previous life.

Every life constitutes a journey. As a journalist, I knew I recognized the name Anthony Shadid, but when I started reading the memoir House of Stone, I didn’t really think about the author. I prefer to come to books untainted by too much knowledge of what hides among the pages. The tidbits on the cover referred to a story of “home, family and a lost Middle East. The book spoke to me of discovery: a man, post-divorce, in a stressful career, dedicating a year to a house in order to understand his family, a troubled world and himself. And then I remembered at the end of the book that Anthony Shadid had died. He did not live to see this story published.

House of Stone possesses a haunting beauty, capturing the charm and just enough hope in circumstances that often lean toward despair.


Who should read:

Anyone interested in foreign policy, Israel/Palestine, the political situation of the Middle East, Arab culture and history, genealogy or anyone whose family has roots in the Middle East.


4 out of 5 stars

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