If a nonfiction book is a vessel of memory and an heirloom of stories from the author to the world, then journalist Anthony Shadid has created something magical with House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family and a Lost Middle East. Shadid, who won Pulitzer Prizes awards for his reporting with newspapers including The New York Times, took a leave of absence from his work in order to return to his ancestral home in Lebanon, and then, he decides his mission during this year off from reporting is to return the run-down home into its former glory. House of Stone recants Shadid’s efforts to reconnect with his family’s roots, in part for his daughter and in part for himself.
But House of Stone is after something larger, too. It’s also the story of the Middle East, and how war and uncertainty (and even the echoes of the Ottoman Empire) make for difficult living for anyone in Lebanon, and Shadid’s eye for detail and for character are put to good use as he works with locals and distant family members. The house connects them all to the past, when honor and trust and community were the fabric of the small town where Shadid’s family hailed from (before mostly immigrating to Oklahoma). His writing shifts between the modern-day efforts to get his house built, and a historical narrative of his family tree. Toggling back and forth, Shadid creates a masterful mosaic that invites you in to the story and even the planting of an olive tree doesn’t seem forced (he plants it for his daughter).
And yet, reading this book is sad, too, because you remember that Shadid died recently from an asthma attack even as he was in his role as a journalist, covering the Middle East in the middle of the violence, as he was apt to do. Still, his book is a gift, if not of full understanding of the Middle East for westerners like me, then at least House of Stone provides a glimpse into the world beyond the headlines, beyond the bombs, and into the lives of regular folks who yearn for peace and for the way things used to be. Shadid’s book reminds of us some Universal Truths about people — we all want stability and we all want a better future for our children — and so Shadid’s writingis indeed a welcome journey to be on. (See this multimedia remembrance of Shadid.)
Peace (among the homes),