House of Stone : A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East

by Anthony Shadid

A compelling saga of redemption and renewal from two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Anthony Shadid tells the story of rebuilding his family's ancestral home in Lebanon amid political strife, and his eventual understanding of the emotions behind the turbulence in the Middle East.

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN-13/ EAN: 9780547134666
  • ISBN-10: 0547134665
  • Pages: 336
  • Publication Date: 02/28/2012
  • Carton Quantity: 12

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About the Book
About the Author
  • “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

    In spring 2011, Anthony Shadid was one of four New York Times reporters captured in Libya, cuffed and beaten, as that country was seized by revolution. When he was freed, he went home. Not to Boston or Beirut—where he lives— or to Oklahoma City, where his Lebanese-American family had settled and where he was raised. Instead, he returned to his great-grandfather’s estate, a house that, over three years earlier, Shadid had begun to rebuild.

    House of Stone is the story of a battle-scarred home and a war correspondent’s jostled spirit, and of how reconstructing the one came to fortify the other. In this poignant and resonant memoir, the author of the award-winning Night Draws Near creates a mosaic of past and present, tracing the house’s renewal alongside his family’s flight from Lebanon and resettlement in America. In the process, Shadid memorializes a lost world, documents the shifting Middle East, and provides profound insights into this volatile landscape. House of Stone is an unforgettable meditation on war, exile, rebirth, and the universal yearning for home.

  • Other Books By The Author


    The Arabic language evolved slowly across the millennia, leaving little undefined, no nuance shaded. Bayt translates literally as house, but its connotations resonate beyond rooms and walls, summoning longings gathered about family and home. In the Middle East, bayt is sacred. Empires fall. Nations topple. Borders may shift or be realigned. Old loyalties may dissolve or, without warning, be altered. Home, whether it be structure or familiar ground, is, finally, the identity that does not fade.

    In old marjayoun, in what is now Lebanon, Isber Samara left a house that never demanded we stay or enter at all. It would simply be waiting, if shelter was necessary. Isber Samara left it for us, his family, to join us with the past, to sustain us, to be the setting for stories. After years of trying to piece together Isber’s tale, I like to imagine his life in the place where the fields of the Houran stretched farther than even the dreamer he was — a rich man born of a poor boy’s labors — could grasp.

       In an old photo handed down, Isber Samara’s heavy-seeming shoulders suggest the approach of the old man he would never become, but his expression retains a hint of mischief some might call youthful. More striking than handsome, his face is weathered from sun and wind, but his eyes are a remarkable Yemeni blue, rare among the Semitic browns of his landscape. Though the father of six, he seems beyond proper grooming. His hair, apparently reddish, is tousled; his mustache resembles an overgrown scattering of brush. Out to prove himself since he was a boy, Isber would one day come to believe that he had.

       By the time the photo of Isber and his family was taken, he was forty or so, but I am drawn more to the Isber that he became — a father, no longer so ambitious, parted from his children, whom he sent off to America to save their lives. I wonder if he pictured them and their descendants — sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters, on and on — moving through lives as unpredictable as his. Did he see us in years ahead, adrift, climbing the cracked steps and opening his doors?

    At Isber’s, the traveler is welcome, befitting the Bedouin tradition of hospitality that he inherited. The olive and plum trees stand waiting at this house of stone and tile, completed after World War I. The place remains in our old town where war has often stopped time and, like an image reflected in clear water, lingers as well in the minds of my family. We are a clan who never quite arrived home, a closely knit circle whose previous generations were displaced during the abandonment of our country decades ago. When we think of home, as origin and place, our thoughts turn to Isber’s house.

       Built on a hill, the place speaks of things Levantine and of a way of life to which Isber Samara aspired. It recalls a lost era of openness, before the Ottoman Empire fell, when all sorts drifted through homelands shared by all. The residence stands in Hayy al-Serail, a neighborhood once as fine as any in the region, an enclave of limestone, pointed arches, and red tile roofs. The tiles here were imported from Marseilles and, in the 1800s, suggested international connections and cosmopolitan fashionableness. They were as emblematic of the style of the Levant as the tarbush hats worn by the Ottoman gentlemen who lived in the Hayy, where the silver was always polished and the coffee came often in the afternoon. Old patriarchs — ancient and dusty as the settees — wiped rheumy eyes with monogrammed handkerchiefs. Sons replaced fathers, carrying on treasured family names. Isber was not one so favored.

       In a place and time not known for self-invention, Isber created Isber. His extended family, not noteworthy, consisted of “less than twenty houses.” His furniture, though expensive and imported from Syria, was as recently acquired as his fortune, and his house stood out not just because of its newness. It was a place built with the labor of a rough-hewn merchant whose eye was distracted from accounts only by his wife, Bahija. It serves as a reminder of a period of rare cultivation and unimaginable tragedy; it announces what a well-intentioned but imperfect man can make of life. Isber’s creation speaks of what he loved and what sustained him; it reminds us that everyday places say much, quietly. The double doors of the entrance are tall and wide for men like Isber, not types to be shut in.

    Isber, whose daughter Raeefa gave birth to my father, was my great-grandfather. I came of age with remembrances that conjured him back to life, tales that made him real and transported my family to his world, a stop gone missing on recent maps: Jedeidet Marjayoun. This is the way my family refers to our town, our hometown. Never Jedeida, never just Marjayoun. We use the full name, a bow of respect, since for us the place was the beginning. It was bayt, where we came to be.

       Settled by my forebears, Marjayoun was once an entrepôt perched along routes of trade plied by Christians, Muslims, and Jews which stitched together the tapestry of an older Middle East. It was, in essence, a gateway — to Sidon, on the Mediterranean, and Damascus, beyond Mount Hermon; to Jerusalem, in historic Palestine; and to Baalbek, the site of an ancient Roman town. As such, this was a place as cosmopolitan as the countryside offered. Its learning and sophistication radiated across the region.

       Yet lingering in small places is not in favor now; they no longer seem to fit the world. Yes, Marjayoun is fading, as it has been for decades. It can no longer promise the attraction of market Fridays, when all turned out in their finery — women in dresses from Damascus, gentlemen with gleaming pocket watches brought from America. At night, there are only flickering lights, which even a desperate traveler could overlook. In the Saha, or town square, there are dusty things — marked down for decades — for sale. No merchants shine counters, or offer sherbets made from snow, or sell exotic tobaccos. The cranky sheikh who filled prescriptions, if he cared to, is no more. The town no longer looks out to the world, and it is far from kept up. Everywhere it is scattered with bits and pieces, newspapers from other decades, odd things old people save. Of course, no roads run through Marjayoun anymore. A town whose reach once spanned historic Syria, grasping Arish in the faraway Sinai Peninsula of Egypt before extending, yet farther, to the confluence of the Blue and the White Niles, now stretches only a mile or so down its main thoroughfare.

    Once, in this place, my family helped raise the cross and disturb the peace. We were known here, not for gentle natures or even temperaments, though we were among the town’s first Christians. We walked these streets, played a role in determining where they would go. And then we used them to leave. Although our family tree still has olives on its branches, we follow the tradition of remaining mastourin (hidden, invisible, masked) when it comes to emotions, yet there are sometimes tears when we look back.

       Isber’s is one of the many houses left behind here, one of those we call mahjour, an Arabic word meaning abandoned, forsaken, lonely. The leftover houses — spindly, breaking down, haunted — speak of Marjayoun’s lost heyday. For many who have walked by them through many years and wars and passings, they are friends. In their shattered windows, those who pass by see shiny panes and all that hap...

  • "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