Saturday, June 23, 2012

House of Stone

I just finished House of Stone, the final book the the reporter, Anthony Shadid. It recounts his efforts to rebuild the home of his great-grandfather in the small village of Marjayoun in southern Lebanon. Sadly, as the book came to press Shadid was killed while covering the uprising in Syria for the New York Times.

Interspersed in the story of the reconstruction, Shadid recounts the history of his family from the time his great grandfather built the home shortly after WWI through the emigration of his children to the USA down to the present day. It's an amazing story of courage and persistence through some really bad times. Amazingly, most of the family settled in Oklahoma, where they have prospered first as merchants, then as professionals.

I didn't realize how big a shock it was to the Middle East when the Ottoman Empire fell. All of the people from different religions had lived together peacefully for centuries. They were separated into different countries, many of which were controlled by European powers like France and Great Britain, who had their own agendas. The lawlessness and fighting that were unleashed are still with us today.

We hear in the news of reports of fighting in and between Israel, Syria, Lebanon, and the other countries. The old problems have never been resolved.

Shadid gives a vivid picture of life in the village today. The friends and workmen he describes struggle to maintain their lives in very difficult circumstances.

Through much of the book Shadid wrestles with his own life after a divorce. He is often guilty about being so far away from his daughter. In the epilogue we find out that he had remarried and had a baby son. In many ways I wish he hadn't gone on that last reporting mission to Syria. This is a book I can see myself rereading for its many dimensions.