The Book of the Week is “House of Stone” by Anthony Shadid, published in 2012. This is a journalist’s personal account of his quest to get closer to his Lebanese roots through renovating a house built by his great-grandfather, and a collection of inherited stories of the diaspora of his ancestors.
As is well known, Lebanon has a history of conflict among its numerous religious denominations despite the fact that most of those groups have monotheism in common. Amid the breakup of the Ottoman Empire at the end of WWI, Shadid’s extensive family of prior generations fled the violence for South America, West Africa, Australia and the United States. His family was Christian. Even as he was working on the house in 2007, Lebanon was teetering on the brink of war yet again. Martial law was imposed and “Even the opposition’s supporters cringed at the sight of militiamen sipping coffee at Starbucks, their rocket-propelled grenades resting in chairs in a distinctly Lebanese vision of globalization.”
In refurbishing the house in Marjayoun, Lebanon, Shadid told of the contractor’s procrastination and excuses, infighting among his distant relatives who were doing the work, power outages and haggling over prices, among other snags, that caused inevitable delays. These causes of frustrations comprise the nature of Lebanese culture. At the same time, Shadid also described how all the workers boasted of their pride of craftsmanship, their hospitality and sociability. After more than a year, he reveled in the inspirational artistry of his new home when it was almost done, unsurprisingly, over budget and past deadline.
Read the book to receive an intimate feel of the contradictions of the Lebanese mindset– of war, “…emptiness, aridity, hopelessness, the antithesis of creation, imagination” and of beauty, family ties and faith in God.