Journey to the House of Stone: Where Past Meets the Present in the Levant

Anthony Shahid's House of Stone.

Anthony Shahid’s House of Stone.

From the Hamra section of Beirut—one of those must-see areas for tourists, full of cafes and honking cars and far less appealing to me than the beautiful Corniche–after a lunch of grape leaves, tabouleh, spicy potatoes (batata harra)- a favorite of my guide Karim- we set out in his black Toyota Corolla 2016 for Marjayoun. I’m again on one of my obsessive literary journeys, this time to visit the House of Stone built by Anthony Shadid  on his ancestral land in the south of Lebanon, an area which used to be largely Christian, but has since become a Shiite stronghold of the Hezbollah party.  Shadid, a Lebanese American of Christian background, was a foreign correspondent for the New York Times who won the Pulitzer prize twice for international reporting, having written empathetically about the effects of the Iraqi war on its people, and was attempting to leave Syria in 2012 while covering the contemporary crisis, when he died tragically, supposedly of an asthma attack.

Ever since I read his beautiful, lyrical, haunting memoir about his quest to find his roots in the country his great grandfather migrated to the USA from, I became obsessed with wanting to see this symbol of one man’s determination to recover his past, and the past of his ancestral homeland, in a present riven by war.  His memoir intertwines his intimate journey with the challenge of rebuilding his great grandfather’s abandoned home, which in 2006 was hit and…

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