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Review: 'House of Stone' provides unvarnished glimpse into reporter's life
"House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), by Anthony Shadid: It's nearly impossible to read Anthony Shadid's memoir, "House of Stone," without thinking about the author's recent death, which occurred prematurely and tragically in February as the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner attempted to leave Syria where he was reporting for The New York Times. (He had worked previously for The Associated Press, The Washington Post and The Boston Globe.) In that context, his book is a poignant dedication to family, to home and to history.
On its surface, it's a tale of the American-born Shadid's ancestral home in a small town in Lebanon. Built by his great-grandfather, the house was damaged by an Israeli rocket in 2006. The divorced Shadid ' for no reason other than to prove his family home was worthy of being called "bayt," the Arabic word for a house that's a home ' takes a yearlong leave from The Washington Post, where he worked at the time, to rebuild.
"For a while I waited for someone to save me from myself," he writes. "No one arrived, so I charged ahead."
And so begins the saga of reconstruction.
We learn much about Arabic life and culture through Shadid's cast of characters: Abu Jean, the builder; Dr. Khairalla, the landscaper; George, Malik and the other workers who surround the correspondent on hiatus from war and teach him about much more than renovating a house.
Throughout his tale, Shadid weaves in the story of his family and its emigration from Lebanon to America in the 1890s. While it's interesting and well-researched, it seems almost superfluous as Shadid's own story is equally fascinating and stands capably on its own.
"Maybe it is because my relatives are emigrants that I rush my departures, which I believe are best made early in the morning, in the dark, before babies cry out, or wives awaken," he writes. "I would rather say nothing and run. Better silence than words second-guessed across the globe."
We get an unvarnished glimpse into Shadid himself, his relationships, his too-close-for-comfort brushes with danger and his desire to breathe life into real-world conflicts the rest of us only read about. He skillfully reveals himself to us without a of hint romanticism, with only breathtaking prose ' a fitting and unintentional elegy.
"What I felt was 'bayt,' and it led me to make a promise to myself, a commitment that I still cannot believe I honored after all these years," he writes. "You see, I have not always been a man who kept my promises, and I have never been the type to stay home."