A nostalgic, bittersweet journey back to the Lebanese homestead.
As a war correspondent for the Washington Post covering the Israeli attack in Lebanon in 2006, Pulitzer winner Shadid (Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War, 2005, etc.), the child of Lebanese Americans who grew up in America, painfully encountered the home of his Lebanese ancestors in the town of Marjayoun. It was a once-fine house that had been long abandoned and was hit by an Israeli rocket. The author then resolved to take a furlough from his newspaper and reconstruct the house, which had belonged to his great-grandfather and was where his grandmother had spent her first 12 years before the family migrated to America. Shadid traces the two sides of his family that converged at the end of the 19th century in Marjayoun, the Samaras and the Shadids, whose subsequent migrations reflect the strife among the Syrian Lebanese Shiite community with the breakup of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. Suffering from his own divorce and separation from his small daughter, Shadid was often overcome by the “history of departures” witnessed by the house, the ruptures caused by loss and discord among the community of Christians, Muslims and Jews, and the tightly knit customs and rituals that kept things running. Shadid’s year became occupied with finding permission to build, securing willing contractors and artisans, and befriending sympathetic characters among the often hostile, suspicious townspeople. Much of the narrative is a gentle unfolding of observation and insight, as the author reacquaints himself with the Arabic rhythms, “absorbing beauties, and documenting what was no more.”
A complicated, elegiac, beautiful attempt to reconcile the physical bayt (home) and the spiritual.