Tuesday, March 6, 2012
It isn't right: his final book. We need Shadid, the Pulitzer Prize winning Middle East correspondent for the New York Times who passed away just a few weeks ago on his way home from war. (He was walking a mountain pass, there were horses near, he died, an allergic reaction). We need how he sees, how he teaches, how he loves, and how he writes. He is not replaceable.
House of Stone is breathtaking—gigantic in ambition, equal to that ambition, combustible and yet right in its mix of country history, imagined (or imaginatively supplemented) familial history, personal yearning, poetry, politics, passion flowers. It recounts the months Shadid spent rebuilding his great-grandfather's estate in old Marjayoun, a dusty place where gardens grow in the country known as Lebanon. It gives us Shadid, newly divorced and with a daughter far away, seeking to resurrect the idea of home. It introduces the sarcasm and suspicions and ironies and odd camaraderie of a band of neighbors and fickle house builders. It memorializes a dying doctor who knows everything, it seems, about making gardens grow.
House of Stone is a book built of many parts, and yet it works seamlessly, sweeping foreigners like myself toward its quiet, exotic heart. There is war, and there is the pickling of olives. There is dust, yet flowers grow. There are age-old accusations and cautions about war. There is a father working so far from the daughter he loves but choosing to believe in days yet to come. There is Shadid's own sadness over those who have died too soon—by horse, by weakened lungs. Yes, horse. Yes, weakened lungs. It is nearly unbearable to read these passages, but they are so beautiful and holy that we do.
One passage, here. All of it this good:
The tiles returned one to a realm where imagination, artistry, and craftsmanship were not only appreciated but given free rein, where what was unique and striking, or small and perfect, or wrought with care was desired, where gazed-upon objects were the products of peaceful hearts, hands long practiced and trained. War ends the values and traditions that produce such treasures. Nothing is maintained. Cultures that may seem as durable as stone can break like glass, leaving all the things that held them together unattended. I believe that the craftsman, the artist, the cook, and the silversmith are peacemakers. They instill grace; they lull the world to calm.
Beneath the branches of your olive trees, rest in peace, Anthony Shadid.