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House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East [Kindle Edition]

Anthony Shadid

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Product Description


"Six pages into this book, I said to myself, if Anthony Shadid continues like this, this book will be a classic. And page by page, he did continue, and he wrote a honest-to-God, hands-down, undeniable and instant classic. This is a book about war, and terrible loss, and a troubled region, and his own tattered family history, yes, but it’s written with the kind of levity and candor and lyricism we associate with, say, Junot Diaz — and that makes the book, improbably, both a compulsive read and one you don’t want to end. I have no idea how Shadid pulled all this off while talking about the history of modern Lebanon, how he balanced ribald humor and great warmth with the sorrow woven into a story like this, but anyway, we should all be grateful that he did."

— Dave Eggers, author of Zeitoun and What Is the What


"Anthony Shadid’s beautifully rendered memoir is a rich account of a man’s gradual immersion into the world of the Middle East and the culture of the Levant, a kingdom almost unrecognizable today, where the rooms and hallways of his great-grandfather’s house tell stories that will linger with every reader for decades."

— André Aciman, author of Out of Egypt


"House of Stone is poignant, aching, and at times laugh-out-loud funny . . . Shadid's writing is so lyrical it's like hearing a song."

— David Finkel, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Good Soldier


"House of Stone is a haunting, beautifully realized piece of writing."

— Nick Flynn, author of The Ticking Is the Bomb


"What a beautiful introduction to a world that I knew so little about. House of Stone is engaging, poignant, and funny."

— Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone


"I was captivated, instantly, by Anthony Shadid's lushly evocative prose. Crumbling Ottoman outposts, doomed pashas, and roving bandits feel immediate, familiar, and relevant. Lose yourself in these pages, where empires linger, grandparents wander, and a battered Lebanon beckons us home. Savor it all. If Márquez had explored nonfiction, Macondo would feel as real as Marjayoun."

— Dave Cullen, author of Columbine


"Evocative and beautifully written, House of Stone . . . should be read by anyone who wishes to understand the agonies and hopes of the Middle East."

— Kai Bird, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and author of Crossing Mandelbaum Gate


"In rebuilding his family home in southern Lebanon, Shadid commits an extraordinarily generous act of restoration for his wounded land, and for us all."

— Annia Ciezadlo, author of Day of Honey


"Few books provide such a subtle, yet powerful insight into the tragedy of today’s Middle East."

— Amin Maalouf, author of Origins: A Memoir


"A riveting, soulful, and candid journey . . ."

— Robin Wright, author of Rock the Casbah

Product Description

“Wonderful . . . One of the finest memoirs I’ve read.” — Philip Caputo, Washington Post

In the summer of 2006, racing through Lebanon to report on the Israeli invasion, Anthony Shadid found himself in his family’s ancestral hometown of Marjayoun. There, he discovered his great-grandfather’s once magnificent estate in near ruins, devastated by war. One year later, Shadid returned to Marjayoun, not to chronicle the violence, but to rebuild in its wake.

So begins the story of a battle-scarred home and a journalist’s wounded spirit, and of how reconstructing the one came to fortify the other. In this bittersweet and resonant memoir, Shadid creates a mosaic of past and present, tracing the house’s renewal alongside the history of his family’s flight from Lebanon and resettlement in America around the turn of the twentieth century. In the process, he memorializes a lost world and provides profound insights into a shifting Middle East. This paperback edition includes an afterword by the journalist Nada Bakri, Anthony Shadid’s wife, reflecting on his legacy.

“A poignant dedication to family, to home, and to history . . . Breathtaking.” — San Francisco Chronicle

“Entertaining, informative, and deeply moving . . . House of Stone will stand a long time, for those fortunate enough to read it.” — Telegraph (London)

Product Details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 1695 KB
  • Print Length: 337 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books; Reprint edition (Feb. 28 2012)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #177,649 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.3 out of 5 stars  143 reviews
98 of 107 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bayt... Jan. 30 2012
By John P. Jones III - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
...literally means "house" in Arabic. Due to the "root" structure of words in Arabic, there are additional connotations, and in this case, one of them is literally "roots": a sense of the community that nourished you. Anthony Shadid is an American of Lebanese origin; he is also a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter for the New York Times and the Washington Post. Like Alex Haley a generation earlier, whose book and TV mini-series is literally entitled (Roots), Shadid went back to his ancestral home in the village of Marjayoun, which, in Arabic, means "Field of Springs." My pre-release Vine copy does not contain a map of the region, a deficiency that will hopefully be remedied in the final version. Nonetheless, I checked a map, because the village's location explains so much: it is only 10 km from Israel, and only 10 km from Syria, with views of often snow-covered Mt. Hermon. The Litani River is nearby, and after Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, Marjayoun was in the Israeli-occupied zone until the year 2000. Major Saad Haddad, of the South Lebanon Army, and an active Israeli collaborator, lived for a number of years in Shadid's ancestral home.

One of the narrative threads of the book, always printed in italics, is the history of the Marjayoun area, dating back roughly a century and a half. It is enough to make you nostalgic for the Ottoman Empire! The sharp political demarcations of today: Lebanon, Israel, Syria, Jordan and Iraq did not exist. Marjayoun served as several cross-roads, and trading with the Bedouin (as well as the occasional raids) was frequent. The author works in the tentative link, seemingly of all the Arabs throughout the Middle East, that their family's northern migration dates back to the breaking of the Marib Dam in Yemen, as mentioned in the Koran, in the 6th Century. Shadid paints a picture of a much more tolerant Levant, where the ethnic and tribal groups largely co-existed. For sure though, grudges, vendettas, and open armed-conflict did occur. One of Shadid's better lines, perhaps apocryphal, is in conversation with one old man about the injury a person of another clan had done to his family, forty years before. Revenge? "No, it is still too early." Shadid could have tempered his nostalgia a bit more if he had specifically recalled the Turkish genocide against the Armenians, as one of the Empire's dying notes. Somewhat ironically, it is when the area fell under French and British "Protectorate" status, after World War I, that the lawlessness and out and out starvation forced so many of both sides of his family to emigrate: to Brazil, West Africa and the United States. In the States, they largely settled in Oklahoma and Kansas, and, in general, prospered. His grandmother, in particular, seemed to develop those Depression-era values of never wasting which led to their financial success.

The other strong narrative thread is Shadid's successful attempt, which commenced in August, 2007, and lasted a year, to restore the stone house of his great grandparents, Isber and Bahija. Dealing with contractors, and undertaking numerous financial arrangements, of a non-routine nature, can provide immense insights into the current state of the village, and of Lebanon as a whole. I recalled parallels with Peter Mayle's A Year in Provence. For sure, Mayle had it easy by comparison, and the "ghosts" of his ancestors were not present. The characters on Shadid's project are rich and variegated, starting with the "foreman," with the mixed named that is symbolic of so much of Lebanon, "Abu Jean"; and anyone who has ever worked with contractors knows that "insh'allah" and "bukra" ("if Allah wills it," and "tomorrow") are universal constants that transcend cultural specifics. One of the greater anomalies in Shadid's project is that he did NOT (and perhaps still does not) own the house that he restored; rather he owned (owns) a fractional amount, along with all too many cousins, scattered across three continents. Surely the concept of "moral eminent domain" should be operative somewhere.

Other Marjayoun residents that Shadid portrays is one of the "last gentlemen of the Ottoman Empire, Cecil Hourani, who was born in England, and Dr. Khairalla, who ran the local hospital, and was tried for treason by Lebanon after the Israeli withdrawal in 2000. He mentions, but does not elaborate on another famous man whose family's roots are in Marjayoun, Dr. Michael DeBakey. Underscoring the 6 degrees of connectivity theory, DeBakey, and his team, operated the heart program at King Faisal Specialist Hospital in the early `80's. Shadid's book resonated in numerous other ways, one of which is the aphorism: "Coffee without cardamom is like a bride without her gown" (p. 23). Another is the quintessential: Any American living, working, and who is actually INTERESTED in the Middle East has to be in the CIA!

A warm, lovely, insightful book, written by a man who has already been quite lucky on the battlefield. Go carefully. 5-stars.

Review Updates:

There are essentially two.

First, to acknowledge that within two weeks of posting the review, Anthony Shadid died, in Syria, of an acute asthma attack. He left us far too early, and is dearly missed.

Second, seems that I made a significant mistake in my review, one for which "Westerners" are famous in the Arab world; trying to correctly differentiate individuals with similar names. I received a courteous email from Lina Haddad, who does not explain her exact relationship with the individuals involved, though I suspect there is one. She said the following:

You state that "Major Saad Haddad, of the South Lebanon Army, and an active Israeli collaborator, lived for a number of years in Shadid's ancestral home."
In the book Anthony Shadid talks about Albert Haddad , the collaborater who squatted his home and not Major Saad Haddad.
From first hand Knowledge I assure you that Major Saad Haddad lived with his family in the house he built on a land he bought, before the Lebanese civil war ever started.
Major Haddad died in 1984, and Albert Haddad left the house in 2000 (as the book states) upon the IDF withdrawal from South Lebanon.
Another inaccuracy, Major Saad Haddad established "the army of free Lebanon" and not the South Lebanon Army. As for being an active collaborator, I think that you would be surprised to know, that Major Saad Haddad was sent to Marjeyoun via the port of Haifa under the orders of the legitimate government of Beyrouth.
I sincerely hope you will correct the inaccuracies.

I stand corrected. Many thanks Ms. Haddad.

32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Past and Present Meet in Middle East Feb. 9 2012
By Joan A. Adamak - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
The author, an American of Lebanese ethnic descent, and Pulitzer Prize winning reporter for the New York Times and Washington Post, after being wounded by an Israeli sniper and a painful divorce, decided to seek his roots and restore his grandfather Isber Samara's stone house in an elite section of Jedeidet Marjayoun, Lebanon. This home, in Lebanese known as a "bayt" encompasses home, roots, center and essence of the family. Being over a century old, it was hit by mortar fire during the first Israeli-Lebanese war and almost destroyed except for much of the extensive stone and tile construction.

Lebanon, as well as several other middle eastern countries, was once part of the Ottoman Empire until it collapsed after WWI. The French originally established Lebanon as a country, which the Israelis challenged by going to war to recover some territory. Thereafter Lebanon was torn apart again during fifteen years of civil war.

These wars affected the people of that country in many ways, creating a Lebanese persona that only another Lebanese can understand. Isber Samara, although originally having been poor, through his own labors became a wealthy man and built this elaborate stone house for his family. Because of these ongoing wars and fearful for his family's lives, he sent his wife and six children to the United States where they settled in Oklahoma, along with other relatives.

With great dexterity the author weaves the past history and culture of these people with the present through the use of flashbacks. Through narrating the lives of his grandparents while under the rule of the Ottoman Empire, and the simple beautiful, stability existing, which also included religious tolerance, and diverse cultures, and then interjecting sequences describing the many difficulties he faced with the workmen while reconstructing his bayt, and his personal inter-relationships with his different friends, he gives a very clear picture of the joys, loves, anger, vendettas, slyness, and strength of these people.

If you are deeply interested in the culture and traditions of the Middle East, both past and present, this is an excellent book to read, recognizing that the author is not just someone looking from the outside in, but is someone inside revealing it to the outside.
37 of 42 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Remember The Past, Remember Marjayoun, Remember Who You Are Feb. 16 2012
By prisrob - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
'Remember The Past, Remember Marjayoun, Remember Who You Are' Isber's House, Anthony Shadid

Note: Anthony Shadid died in Syria on February 16, 2012. He was reporting on the war as it took place. May he rest in peace.

One year ago on March 16, 2011, Anthony and three colleagues had been detained in Libya and suffered imprisonment and beatings until they were released a few days later. Mr. Shadid understood that danger was always around the corner. Anthony Shadid is a two time Pulitzer Prize journalist for the New York Times.

In this book, Anthony Shadid tells us of his family history and the generational home in Majayoun, Lebanon. This is an estate built by his great-grandfather, and Anthony returned to Marjayoun and rebuilt this home for himself, his family and the generations of relatives who had died and those yet to come. He owned but a small piece of this house, but he felt a need to rejuvenate his soul and this new home. This is a mostly loving tale of the resurrection of this home, and the obstacles and issues that everyone who re-builds a home relates in sad and funny detail. We learn of Anthony's immediate family and his life in Oklahoma, Boston and New York City.

Life in Lebanon today is not easy. Anthony Shadid takes us to his homeland, and we get to meet his neighbors, the physician he befriends, the workers Abu Jean, in particular, who are hired to rebuild the home. Everyone tells him that this is not just his home, and people will take advantage of him. It matters not, Anthony feels a great need to be part of his heritage.

Anthony Shadid was part of the Arabic world. His job as a journalist was to observe and record the day to day life of the world in Iraq, Egypt, Libya, Turkey and Syria. He knew the area, he had been arrested and had lived in this area for many years. He had a daughter in the States, and he loved her immensely. He had met a new woman and had a son and was so happy. Before all of this new happiness, he was brought back to Marjayoun, and that is where the story begins and ends.

This was a remarkable book in many ways. Lebanon, the country has always been a curious place to most of us. A country we will never visit. Now, with Anthony Shadid's eyes and voice we are part of the world of these people. Their culture and as the house is rebuilt we revisit the past with Mr Shadid and the stories his relatives have to tell. Both Marjayoun and Anthony Shadid had come through a war and were tired and needed rejuvenation. This is his story, and a terrific story it is. It is so sad that this man has died at such a young age. He will go home but once again.

Highly Recommended.prisrob 02-17-12

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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary--3rd book I ever blurbed March 1 2012
By Dave Cullen - Published on
I was just amazed by this book. So much to love here, but it was the prose that really grabbed me. Not just the poetry of it, but the candor and authenticity, and the way he looks right inside his characters.

I rarely blurb books, and this was only the third one I ever did, which indicates how much I loved it. Here's what I wrote for the back cover:

"I was captivated, instantly, by Anthony Shadid's lushly evocative prose. Crumbling Ottoman outposts, doomed pashas, and roving bandits feel immediate, familiar, and relevant. Lose yourself in these pages, where empires linger, grandparents wander, and a battered Lebanon beckons us home. Savor it all. If Gabriel Márquez had explored nonfiction, Macondo would feel as real as Marjayoun." -- Dave Cullen, author of Columbine

Reading it sometimes made me feel inadequate as a writer. I wish I could do some of the amazing things he does. Or maybe I wish I could do them so relentlessly. I tend to underline phrases I love, and the pages are covered in ink. Every other sentence leaps out at me. Hard to believe anyone can be that consistent. Faulkner, Nabokov, Denis Johnson and William Lychak are the only ones who have matched Anthony's underline rate for me.
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Three themes that don't quite come together April 22 2012
By Arthur Digbee - Published on
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Anthony Shadid is a prize-winning American journalism of Christian Lebanese descent who has reported on events in the Middle East. In this book, he weaves together the classic American immigrant story (his family settled in Oklahoma City), the history of his family's home town of Marjayoun, and his own story of rebuilding the family home. His rebuilding project structures the book, introducing Shadid to the work habits of Lebanese contractors in a once-proud town that has become a backwater, and introducing the reader to some local characters. Not surprisingly, war lurks in the background.

Each piece is interesting but not quite interesting enough, and they don't really come together. Shadid doesn't really motivate his own decision to rebuild the house. It's clear that war reporting destroyed his first marriage, and it's harming his relationship with his daughter. So he wants to recapture a sense of "home" (bayt) and extended family. That explains the desire to explore his roots, but doesn't make the connection from people to the abandoned old house. The family theme also doesn't do a good job connecting to the frustrating details of a construction project.

Shadid doesn't seem aware of it, but I was struck by how many of the people here - including Shadid - seem to be suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome. Emotional numbness, hopelessness, trouble with concentration, difficulty with close relationships, irritability and self-destructive behavior are all evident among the people of Marjayoun - so much so that a non-doctor like myself with no experience with PTSD noticed.

There's a lot of pain here but the author does not allow himself to go deeply into those personal issues. My suspicion, and it's just a suspicion, is that going deeper would make this a more compelling book and would also provide the connection that is currently missing in these three stories. Shadid is a talented writer, and it's too bad this book didn't end up coming together more effectively.

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