Order for £13.49 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
House of Stone, By Anthony Shadid. Granta, £14.99
Wednesday 28 November 2012
Pulitzer Prize-winner Anthony Shadid, foreign correspondent for the New York Times, died in February this year. Just 43, he suffered a fatal asthma attack while trying to leave Syria on horseback.
After separating from his wife in 2006, Shadid visited his family's derelict home in old Marjayoun, now southern Lebanon. Fatigued by war-reporting, he resolved to restore the house, built by his great grandfather after the First World War, to its former glory in order to establish a sense of bayt (home) for himself and his young daughter.
To many of Shadid's acquaintances in Marjayoun, his decision seemed an act of madness. Shadid couldn't even claim outright ownership of the house as the inheritance was shared between numerous descendants. However, he persisted with his venture, learning how to haggle and deal with the erratic working practices and incessant squabbling of the local builders and craftsmen.
Of all the characters in this memoir, perhaps the most memorable is Khairalla Mady, a former doctor, oud maker and keen gardener, who is dying of cancer. Khairalla had been accused of treason for having continued to run the local hospital during the Israeli occupation. Despite his impeccable reputation and good works only one person, a British-born professor, spoke up for him and helped him avoid a prison sentence.
Khairalla's experience is emblematic of the rumours, betrayals and life-long vendettas that seem to abound in Marjayoun. Many of the town's inhabitants are convinced Shadid is an American spy, and that the US embassy is paying for the house.
Interwoven with his own experiences, Shadid recreates his family's migration to 1920s' Oklahoma, vividly imagining their alienation as they adapted to a new culture.
Turbulent political unrest forced Shadid's family into exile and war brings him home. It is a terrible irony that Shadid's reclaiming of bayt, his sense of "belonging", was cut short because of the conflict in neighbouring Syria.
Game of Thrones
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Huawei Mate S and Huawei Watch: new products take on iPhone 6 Plus and Apple Watch
- 2 More than 11,000 Icelanders offer to house Syrian refugees to help European crisis
- 3 If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
- 4 Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
- 5 German police forced to ask public to stop bringing donations for refugees arriving by train
The real reason Eddie Redmayne was cast as a trans woman in The Danish Girl
JK Rowling announces Harry Potter's son is starting at Hogwarts
Idris Elba is ‘too street’ to play 007, says James Bond author
Akram Khan: Choreographer says dance is 'as important as maths and being a doctor'
Common words you're probably misusing: From 'enormity' to 'ultimately', 'gambit' to 'fortuitous'
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
Senior British politicians tell David Cameron: When dead children are being washed up on beaches – it's time to act
Jeremy Corbyn calls Osama bin Laden's killing a 'tragedy' - but was it taken out of context?
If these extraordinarily powerful images of a dead Syrian child washed up on a beach don't change Europe's attitude to refugees, what will?
If you're not already angry about the refugee crisis, here's a history lesson to remind you why you really should be
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up