PDF | House of Stone: a Memoir of Home, Family and a Lost Middle East is the story of a returning native son who has in mind what the locals. House of Stone. By ANTHONY SHADID. THE America that drew my family was 7, miles from where they started, in old Marjayoun, in. Read House of Stone PDF - A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East by Anthony Shadid Mariner Books | “Wonderful One of the.
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The pain of his loss is not alleviated, if anything it is made more exquisite, by the last book he wrote, a memoir of his family, his own return to Lebanon, and the traumas of being a war reporter, a work published just weeks after his death: House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Books written by journalists often have a great deal to recommend themselves; the authors are used to writing clear, concise sentences without the torturous grammar that academic writers feed off of.
The end result of editorial limits on word-count is that the best journalist-authors know how to condense description into just a few words, or a single image. It is not a book of answers, not a book that will explain to you what has happened and will happen in Lebanon—but for those interested in the Middle East, particularly in the transformations that have rocked the Levant in the last decade, it is a must-read, and a thoroughly enjoyable one.
As he walks through the arches of the house and battles with contractors over scheduling and prices and the quality of work, he reflects on his great-grandfather who built the house, the effort that he poured into its construction and what the house meant to him as a symbol of Ottoman gentility.
As he sits on the balcony and considers what kind of railings to install, he evokes the grandmother who was sent away to America at the tender age of twelve.
Both of these stories are told with the sort of attention to humanness that readers have come to expect from Shadid—while the vignettes of organizing construction in Lebanon are often hilarious, they are undertaken as an act of respect and honor for family, achieving a level of weightiness that Peter Mayle could never hope to achieve.
Anthony Shadid in front of the house his great-grandfather built in Marjayoun. But this is not just a family story—it is also the story of an era, specifically the period in which the Ottoman empire crumbled and the Levant began to be redrawn according to the priorities of European nation-states.
When his story overlaps with the Lebanese Civil War, he provides insight into what it means to live in a place where you are constantly waiting for the resumption of violence, for the next kidnapping, bomb, invasion, or assassination.
But the Lebanese people of House of Stone are not simply victims—they also participate in the sectarian divisions which, however much they might be traced to the influence of the French and other colonial powers, have long since taken on a life of their own.
Shadid records Marjayounis reflecting nostalgically on the religious diversity that used to exist and the mixed-faith communities that had lived alongside one another—but he also makes clear that most of these people have few ways to challenge the walls that have grown up between the different Lebanese sects, not to mention the military and political might of certain sectarian political parties in Lebanon.
It is one of the most remarkable features of this book that Shadid never allows the pain to be redeemed—there are no particular rays of sunshine at the end of the book, no indication that Lebanon is nearing a time of reconciliation, peace, and economic renewal—Anthony was always far too intelligent and honest to deploy the deus ex machina of a hopeful horizon.
But as he tells the stories of pessimism, of small villages wiped out by wars both internal and external , of young people fleeing to America or Beirut , of village markets and family homes abandoned, those stories are accompanied by an account of the incredible link, the responsibility, that the people of Marjayoun feel with their land. Some will visit. Some will restore houses. Some, like Shadid himself, come back.
This loyalty to the past—albeit a past that is lost forever—is not a palliative or cure.
Capital W: Plug in to Wisconsin politics
But it means that the past is never forgotten, and suggests that whatever the future brings it will be a future whose essential nature is determined in relationship to the past.
The village of Marjayoun, Lebanon Photo by David Kotait, House of Stone is already a classic, and it will remain so for great literary reasons—the fluidity of the prose, the evocativeness of the description, and the pacing of the narrative, among other reasons. With my fellow reporters I had followed a campaign deadlier and more destructive than any here since the Israeli invasion of , which began an eighteen-year occupation. Israel had stormed in after Hezbollah—the militant arm of the Shiite Muslims in Lebanon—infiltrated the heavily fortified Israeli border, killing three enemy soldiers in an ambush and spiriting two others away.
In retaliation, the pretext for reprisals that are never proportionate, the Israelis unleashed a thirty-three-day barrage that destroyed entire villages and left more than 1, dead, most of them civilians.
Their Merkava tanks plowed ahead as unmanned drones hovered, buzzing like swarms of insects. Most of the weapons were American—the Fs and Apache helicopters, the Sparrow and Sidewinder missiles, the cluster bombs that left four million bomblets sown in the ground, waiting to kill and maim long after the war ended.
When my group said goodbye to Qana, I hoped for a quick trip on twisting roads through the hills and smoky greenery, flying fast away. Traveling in my old Jeep Cherokee, we headed to Tyre, where, upon arrival, we spilled out. What I noticed was not more death, though eighty-six faces lay in cheap coffins baking in the blazing sun of south Lebanon. What moved me was, in the corner of the scene, a row of women mourning in black.
As the heat climbed, a few lifted their veils, moving cautiously, as if they feared a single gesture might discomfit the world. The women in Tyre did not flinch, did not speak; they did not ask that their sorrows be noticed.
They were here for others, and as long as the caskets remained, waiting to be interred in the same gaping hole, the women would not depart. Their presence said that life was still sacred, that the loss of it mattered, even now. In the Middle East, the first lesson is the meaning of silence.
In the silence of the women was faith. In my silence there was my family, on my mind since this war had started. 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, or callers from Bangalore demand payment of credit card invoices.
I would rather say nothing and run. Better silence than words second-guessed across the globe.
Grab the suitcase. Smoke a forbidden cigarette. But the place I was usually headed to was no longer the one with which I had once been so enamored. The Middle East that had fascinated, preoccupied, and saddened me for decades was gone. I had first come to know it when I was in college and spending a summer in Jerusalem.
Then and later, excursions took me from the crumbly Ottoman outpost of Suakin, on the Red Sea, to the oily sprawl of Riyadh and, stretching across the desert, to Sanaa. From that magical old town, with its toy-like houses of stained glass and white gypsum washing over cream adobe, I traveled on, to capitals of surreal modernity on the turquoise waters of the Persian Gulf.
Especially compelling to me was something difficult to articulate but that underlay everything, an approach to life—an ease, an elegance, an absence of the unnecessary. Anything hurried, superficial, purely mercenary, or delusory was rejected. Central was a slowness allowing for the consideration of every choice. The state of the spirit, it is believed, reveals itself in small tasks, rituals—all the things that war interrupts. Old traditions that represent values, daily habits that calm the mind, are not perpetuated when war stops time.
Life goes unattended. What might have been lasting is lost. The old ways of the Levant have dwindled down here, as war—or the threat of it, or the wait for it, or the loss that follows it—has become a way of life. By the time I arrived in Lebanon in , few cultures intersected here. Politics was refracted through unyielding religious discourse or more ancient affiliations, and identity flowed exclusively from them, irrespective of culture and language. It seemed we had been left with tribes bereft of citizenship.
Home, united, as other generations had known it, had long been lost, though an older architecture still whispered of times glimpsed in broken masonry and solitary arches.
At A. I knew I had to go, and days later I set out to visit that stately old home perched at the foot of Mount Hermon, known to all here as Jabal al-Sheikh, the Mountain of the Old Man.
The house had been abandoned for years. The drive to Marjayoun should have been leisurely; it was just a few hours away on hilly roads to the market town of Nabatiyeh, then through the Litani Valley to Marjayoun. But en route from Tyre that day, no one could say what roads would collide with the war. We traveled an out-of-the-way, serpentine route, trying to locate a clear, safe passage, sheltered from the sky.
‘House of Stone,’ a Memoir by Anthony Shadid
I was trying to stay quiet. If I spoke, I would have almost certainly lost patience with someone. Fresh from three years reporting the conflict in Iraq, I had been grazed by three wars and was suddenly covering—with the help of enough cigarettes to keep the Carolinas out of the meth business—the grisliest conflict I had tried to describe. The gray strands in my hair were not, at that point at least, signs of aging, but keepsakes from Ramallah and Baghdad, not to mention the final six months of my marriage.
I think it was the last that left me with the most gray. The battles with my wife had been accelerating for what seemed like ages. Even before I had heard his bullet that day, I fell, momentarily deafened and disoriented. A stun grenade, I thought at first. I think I was shot, I remember saying to my Palestinian colleague, seemingly hours after I had realized it, though only moments had passed.
He lay next to me, desperately patting my body and looking for hemorrhaging. The warm blood that soaked my dirty clothes felt almost soothing as I lay crumpled under a cemetery-gray sky. I recovered, for the most part.
My wife did not. Our home was breaking, broken, finally broken up. By the time I arrived in Lebanon, I was a suitcase and a laptop drifting on a conveyor belt.
The bridge was in ruins—like the makeshift road over the water, blown by bombing. Though not much of a river, the Litani is too deep to ford, even in summer. But someone spotted a temporary bridge, apparently erected the night before probably for guerrillas to transport their weapons , and we managed to cross. We made it to the capital, Beirut, with no reports filtering in from our destination.
Rise from the rubble like a flower of almond in April, Rumi sang, voice soaring. Rise, O Beirut! But driving toward the city, I knew the Beirut of tomorrow would never be the same as the one that, only recently, had been so buoyant. By the time we reached it, fuel depots were still burning at the airport, with columns of white smoke billowing over its seaside. In homes that we drove past, residents watched on television the attacks a few miles away, which they could hear and feel.
In the streets, the tire tracks of ambulances cleared paths through broken glass. The call to prayer echoed across suddenly deserted alleys. The occasional car that passed mine was usually headed for the Syrian border, the last way out of the country. From Beirut, we crossed the mountains to Zahle and down the Bekaa Valley and its vineyards, always in search of gasoline for our cars.
We plowed past abandoned checkpoints and over hilly, moonlit roads.
House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East
There were no cars. No one was in the streets. The Lebanese soldiers had long fled, before the rotors of choppers beating the air and the drone of surveillance planes. By midnight, we came close to Marjayoun but had to turn back.That year gives him the opportunity to embrace Arab culture and to get to know the people of Marjayoun.
A crater was carved into one road at the spot where it bent around a hill of crumbling terraces and worn stones. Some Lebanese believe that it was here, amid grape arbors, olive groves, and fig trees, that Jesus performed his miracle, turning water into wine. I prefer to come to books untainted by too much knowledge of what hides among the pages. In a moving epilogue, Shadid describes returning to this house after a nearly disastrous week as a prisoner of war in Libya along with the first visit of his daughter.
Traveling in my old Jeep Cherokee, we headed to Tyre, where, upon arrival, we spilled out.
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