As part of our fellowship requirements for our trip to Lebanon, I chose Anthony Shadid’s House of Stone. I’m honestly not sure why. I think I just went with my normal “go with something farther down the list” strategy. I’m glad I got lucky, as I really did enjoy this book, and I highly recommend it to everyone.
There were so many themes in this book that resonated with me. Shadid’s lengthy explanations of hospitality, both stated plainly (xiv) and woven throughout his narrative remind me of my weeks in Jordan. To this day, the saddest casualty of my shoddy packing on the return trip from Jordan is a reed pipe that was given to me by a shop owner, simply because I was a guest in his town.
This book is divided into two stories woven together: the story of Shadid’s renovations of his forebear’s home in Marjayoun and snippets of journal entries and stories of his ancestors. Shadid’s discussions of house and home remind me of the themes of home in my own life, as I sit in my grandparents’ living room reading this book (xv). As a Navy brat, we moved around constantly, and my grandparents’ home was one of the few constants in my life. It, like Shadid’s home in Lebanon, was built by a family member, and generations of my family have lived here.
I learned from the book of the diaspora of Lebanese out of Lebanon in the 20s after the fall of the Ottoman empire (xvii), which I suppose makes sense if I had ever taken any time to think about it. Both sides of my family have moved across country or away from their original homes for a multitude of reasons, but none of them had been for chaos and bloodshed.
Throughout the book, characters describe Lebanon as a land of war, as “lands where war has never ended” (42). And I think on some level that goes with how we sometimes perceive Lebanon from the United States. And yet, Shadid’s story is not one of violence and bloodshed. It’s the same as any family narrative here–bickering between cousins, the importance of knowing your roots, the love of home. The town of Marjayoun is not at war, at least not in the time period he described. Shadid does a good job of not sugar-coating his description of his home city; in fact, a piece he wrote in the Washington Post angered many from Marjayoun because they did not find it to be kind enough. The difference in the war narrative versus the day-to-day life narrative put Lebanon into greater perspective for me.
Honestly, I can’t understand the concept of constant war, not really. The United States has been at constant war since I was in high school (ten years at this point), but those wars only have a cursory effect on my day-to-day life. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have affected my friends in the Armed Forces’ lives, and of course there are economical and social ramifications at home, but I am not surrounded by constant bloodshed. While Lebanon is in a period of relative peace at the moment, I just can’t empathize with the feeling expressed in the book that the constant feeling that “there will always be wars in Lebanon” (151). I hope that the people of Lebanon can get to a point that they cannot empathize with that feeling, either.