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House of Sand and Fog

by

House of Sand and Fog Cover

 

 

Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group's reading of Andre Dubus III's House of Sand and Fog, a uniquely American tragedy of taut suspense and profound emotional impact.

1. Do you sympathize more with Kathy Nicolo or with Colonel Behrani in part one of the novel? How does Dubus's use of alternating first-person narratives affect your response to, and involvement with, the characters?

2. The contested ownership of the house on Bisgrove Street is the fulcrum of the novel's plot. Who, in your opinion, owns the house once Behrani has paid cash for it? What would be a fair solution to the conflict?

3. Early in the novel Behrani buys himself a hat, which he says gives him "the appearance of a man with a sense of humor about living, a man who is capable to live life for the living of it" [p. 28]. Why is this a poignant thing for Behrani to wish for himself? Does he in fact take life too seriously?

4. What does Kathy's response to Nick's desertion reveal about her character? Why does Lester fall in love with Kathy? Is he better for her than Nick was?

5. Lester tells Kathy that he had wanted to become a teacher, but plans changed when Carol became pregnant. Is Lester's job in law enforcement a poor fit for him? Why did he once plant evidence in a domestic violence case?

6. Who, of the three main characters, is most complex? Who is most straightforward?

7. Where does the hostility between Lester and Behrani spring from? How do their memories–Lester's of his teenage girlfriend and her brother, Behrani's of his murdered cousin, Jasmeen–function to reveal the deep emotions that motivate action in this novel?

8. At what point do Kathy's and Lester's actions depart from the path of a simple desire for justice and move into something else? Why can neither of them seem to act rationally? Does Behrani act rationally?

9. Does Lester drink to break free of a sense of deadness, or to anesthetize himself? Why does he risk his family life as well as his professional life for his involvement with Kathy? Is he attempting to reinvigorate his life, or is he unconsciously seeking to destroy himself?

10. Note the epigraph to the novel, from "The Balcony" by Octavio Paz: "Beyond myself/ somewhere/ I wait for my arrival." How does it apply to the problems of self and alienation in each of the three main characters? Who has the clearest sense of his or her identity? What does it mean to have a clear sense of self?

11. Describing the success of her recovery program, Kathy says, "I had already stopped wanting what I'd been craving off and on since I was fifteen, for Death to come take me the way the wind does a dried leaf out on its limb" [p. 46]. How does the novel affect your response to the social and psychological issues of addiction, depression, and suicide? Do you find yourself being understanding or judgmental of Kathy as the stress of the conflict increases? Is she actually more of a survivor than she thinks she is?

12. Is Behrani's wife, Nadereh, an admirable character? Does her feminine role in a very traditional marriage reduce her importance as an actor in this drama? Does she have qualities that are missing in Behrani, Kathy, and Lester?

13. Behrani tells his son, "Remember what I've told you of so many Americans: they are not disciplined and have not the courage to take responsibility for their actions. If these people paid to us the fair price we are asking, we could leave and she could return. It is that simple. But they are like little chidren, son. They want things only their way" [p. 172]. How accurate is his perception of Americans? How well does it apply to Kathy and Lester?

14. How does House of Sand and Fog highlight the conflict between downwardly mobile Americans and upwardly mobile recent immigrants? What role does racism play in the reaction of Americans and foreigners to each other?

15. Why has Kathy avoided telling her mother and brother the truth about her situation? Does their meeting at the end of the novel resolve any of Kathy's difficult feelings about her place in the family?

16. Should Behrani be held responsible, on some level, for the crimes and excesses of the Shah's regime? Is he responsible for Esmail's fate?

17. Why does Behrani put on his military uniform at the climax of the novel?

18. What do you find most disturbing about the novel's denouement? If you find yourself imagining an alternate ending, what would that ending be?

Product Details

ISBN:
9781400077359
Author:
Dubus III, Andre
Publisher:
Random House
Author:
Dubus, Andre, III
Author:
Andre Dubus III
Location:
New York
Subject:
General
Subject:
Immigrants
Subject:
Home ownership
Subject:
Iranian Americans.
Subject:
San Mateo County
Edition Description:
Paperback
Series:
Vintage Contemporaries
Series Volume:
no. 11.99
Publication Date:
November 2003
Binding:
Paperback
Language:
English
Pages:
365
Dimensions:
8.08x5.18x.78 in. .59 lbs.

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

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Product details 365 pages Vintage Books USA - English 9781400077359 Reviews:
"Review" by , "A mesmerizing tale of the American Dream gone terribly awry....The son and namesake of one of our most talented writers has embarked on a dazzling career in his own right."
"Review" by , "Exceptional storytelling, true to life....You can't help but be impressed."
"Review" by , "A page-turner with a beating heart."
"Review" by , "Dubus writes gorgeous prose with a noirish edge, holding his readers spellbound..."
"Review" by , "A mixture of classical tragedy perfectly imbued with film noir...the work of a writer who is the real thing."
"Review" by , "The most rending kind of war is not between two hatreds, but between two hopes....Dubus sets out the growing confrontation with chilly ingenuity and a remarkably observant compassion."
"Review" by , "[A]n enthralling tragedy....No villains here, but only precisely rendered proof that the road to hell is paved with good intentions."
"Synopsis" by , In this riveting novel of almost unbearable suspense, three fragile yet determined people become dangerously entangled in a relentlessly escalating crisis. Colonel Behrani, once a wealthy man in Iran, is now a struggling immigrant willing to bet everything he has to resotre his family's dignity. Kathy Nicolo is a troubled young woman whose house is all she has left, and who refuses to let her hard-won stability slip away from her. Sheriff Lester Burdon, a married man who finds himself falling in love with Kathy, becomes obsessed with helping her fight for justice.

Drawn by their competing desires to the same small house in the California hills and doomed by their tragic inability to understand one another, the three converge in an explosive collision course. Combining unadorned realism with profound empathy, House of Sand and Fog marks the arrival of a major new voice in American fiction.

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