House of Stone
A memoir by Anthony Shadid
2012 / 336 Pages
Two time Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Anthony Shadid’s memoir about his time spent restoring his great grandparents’ war-torn home in Southern Lebanon was released shortly after his passing in 2012. While it does serve as an interesting look at the year he spent dedicated to the project and estranged from his young daughter, it also attempts to trace his family history through the years and seeks to educate the reader about the constant state of upheaval in the Middle East. Sadly these distinctly different pieces never quite combine in a way the feels satisfactory. Reading House of Stone is like learning little bits of information about a lot of varying subjects, some of which may be important, but none of which are fully explained in enough detail.
As far as the main story is concerned, you’re given exactly what you’d expect, a project that can’t stay on budget or on time, a strange cast of quirky characters who either don’t want to work, don’t work well together, or just don’t show up at all for days or even weeks sometimes, and a frustrated Shadid who longs to see his dream of restoration become a reality.
The family backstory sprinkled throughout the book is interesting enough, but it’s hard to tell how specific the set of circumstances that affected his ancestors were to his family. Are these stories general enough to be recognizable as similar to the experiences of other Middle Easterners? I’m certainly not qualified to answer that question, but I have a feeling the answer lies somewhere in the middle. It’s not that these pieces of family history he’s offered up aren’t valuable, more that they may not be easily relatable. Still, for what it’s worth Shadid did an admirable job explaining his lineage and it’s direct correlation to why he so desperately wanted to rebuild a house he’d never even visited.
Finishing the book, I found myself strangely fascinated with how Shadid passed. I knew very little about him prior to reading this memoir, and was surprised to find that it ended with very little information about his death.
Reading completed, I first visited his official website where I found the following message posted from his widow on the homepage:
I do not approve of and will not be a part of any public discussion of Anthony’s passing. It does nothing but sadden Anthony’s children to have to endure repeated public discussion of the circumstances of their father’s death.
I then jumped over to a Wikipedia entry that shed a little more light on the supposed circumstances surrounding his death, but sadly still left things far too unclear. Out of respect for the family I won’t discuss the details here, but my time spent researching Shadid’s life and death after reading his book made me realize that his memoir was perhaps most disappointing with regard to how much distance he seemed to put between himself and the circumstances through which he was living. The book just didn’t feel intimate enough. He didn’t give or share enough of himself to leave a lasting impact.
Another realization quickly followed the first however: someone needs to write a biography of Shadid’s life. He’s a fascinating study that won awards for his journalistic pursuits, but here he just couldn’t seem to focus his trained eye for the truth on himself enough to let the reader into the inner workings of his interesting life.