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Book Review: Selection from House of Stone

In my creative writing class we read a selection from House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family and a Lost Middle East by Anthony Shadid. In Chapter 9 “ Mr. Chaya Appears”, we are treated to a vivid rendering of a time and place that doesn’t exist the same way anymore. Shadid says of it, “in the time of the Levant there was freedom to savor the worlds of others” and that it was “a realm where imagination, artistry, and craftsmanship were not only appreciated but given free reign.” The story told in the selection is a quest to locate antique floor tiles which are routinely being stripped from houses that are being demolished. The author goes through a long process of hunting down and haggling over the original tiles, including some more ‘back alley’ routes. Eventually though he must resort to buying some handmade reproductions to stretch his supply. I found the mixing of the original richly patterned antiques with the plainer reproductions to be a very smart and practical decision, but also an interesting metaphor. The mixing of the old and the new which is trying to be old, in some kind of vain attempt to recapture the brilliant craftsmanship of people no long dead, is slightly tragic in the same sense as Shadid’s description of the now lost “time of the Levant.”


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