House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East
by Anthony Shadid
Welcome to our first book discussion! Below you’ll find some of my thoughts about the first few chapters of this book along with specific discussion questions. Please feel free to answer the questions I’ve posted in the comments, augment the discussion with your own thoughts on the chapters, and ask more questions to spur us on. Every couple of days, I will add a new post with thoughts and questions for additional chapters. I won’t cover all of the chapters in the same depth, because I’ll be focusing on what stood out to me when I read the book. So if I skip something you particularly want to discuss, add to the discussion.
Based on who I’ve added to this group, in these discussions, I am going to assume that most of our bookclub members are Americans, that is, citizens of the United States of America. If you’re not, please feel free to rephrase the questions and answer them in any way you see fit. Also if you’re not an American citizen, please let me know because as our group diversifies–which is my goal–I will want to set our discussions up to include the viewpoints of all of our group members.
You can also follow along and discuss in my groups on Ravelry and Facebook, where you might find a more lively discussion. I’m not sure where the group will take off with the most energy, so let’s see. Thanks for joining me.
While you are reading this book, think about the idea of “a lost Middle East” from the title of the book, and look for this theme throughout your reading. We will come back to discuss this topic later.
I love the idea of bayt–home–as discussed in the intro to House of Stone. In Lithuanian the word house–namas–is also treated differently when it means home. Grammatically, spiritually, and emotionally, “home” has a special place in the Lithuanian mindset, just as it is in the Arab mindset. In House of Stone, Anthony Shadid refers to his family’s home as the town of Marjayoun, where is family, as he knows it, began. For me, that notion of home would be New York City. My family became what it is today, the roots of who we are today were formed, after my great grandparents left the “old country” and travelled across half the continent of Europe and all of the Atlantic Ocean to land at Ellis Island and plant themselves in tenements on the Lower East Side, in Manhattan, and in the neighborhood of Blissville, in Queens. We are an American family, even though we have roots in Eastern Europe.
As an American, I have a very different perspective on what home means. To me home means wherever I plant my own roots. I have lived in New York, Tennessee, California, Colorado and Vermont. Each of those places has been my home during the years I lived there. Although I have fond memories of my grandparents apartments and the house I grew up in, none of those places have been home to me once I became and adult and started to make my own way in the world. Being “home” for the holidays for me has never meant visiting relatives far away, but staying in my own nest and being where I belong.
What is your notion of home and how does it relate to your family history?
When did your family begin to think of America as home? Is Anthony Shadid’s family any less than mine because we have a different concept of home?
How does the concept of “home” change when a family emigrates? When a child grows up?
PART I: RETURNING
Chapter 1: What Silence Knows
Assuming that you now live in North America, when did your family come to these shores? (Feel free to answer in any way that makes sense if you live elsewhere.) Have you ever visited your ancestral homeland? If not, do you want to?
When I first went to Lithuania and visited the National Museum in Vilnius, I was struck by the strange feeling that the people who made the ancient artifacts on display were directly related to me. I had never felt this way visiting museums in the United States. My family did not come the the USA until the beginning of the 20th century. Once I became an adult and realized that, the stories of the American Revolution, the Civil War, and other American history tales weren’t my stories.
Now that I find the values of “Liberty and Justice for All” that I was taught to cherish as a child being threatened by an authoritarian (dare I say fascist?) regime here in the USA, I have started to feel strongly attached to America in a way that I have not felt since I was saying the Pledge of Allegiance in school when I was 7 or 8 years old. I do believe in all of those values that our Founding Fathers wrote about so eloquently, yet failed to implement in our fledgling nation. I believe that everyone who is here, whether they were born here or elsewhere, whether they speak English or another language, whatever color their skin, whatever their sexual orientation, whatever their gender–whatever!–we should all be treated equally and with dignity. I suppose what I’m saying is that I believe human rights should apply to all humans, whoever and wherever they are.
How do you feel about history? What history is your history?
What history do you share with other Americans? What is your place in the world?
Do you think citizens of a country should be treated differently than immigrants? Does it make a difference whether an immigrant has come into the country legally or illegally?