Synopses & Reviews
In this intimate and poignant history of a sprawling century-old summer house on Cape Cod, George Howe Colt reveals not just one family's fascinating story but a vanishing way of life. Faced with the sale of the treasured house where he had spent forty-two summers, Colt returned for one last August with his wife and young children. The Big House
, the author's loving tribute to his one-of-a-kind family home, interweaves glimpses of that elegiac final visit with memories of earlier summers spent at the house and of the equally idiosyncratic people who lived there over the course of five generations.
Built by Colt's great-grandfather one hundred years ago on a deserted Cape Cod peninsula, the house is a local landmark (neighboring children know it as the Ghost House): a four-story, eleven-bedroom jumble of gables, bays, sloped roofs, and dormers. The emotional home of the Colt family, the Big House has watched over five weddings, four divorces, and three deaths, along with countless anniversaries, birthday parties, nervous breakdowns, and love affairs. Beaten by wind and rain, insulated by seaweed, it is both romantic and run-down, a symbol of the faded glory of the Boston Brahmin aristocracy.
With a mixture of amusement and affection, Colt traces the rise and fall of this tragicomic social class while memorably capturing the essence of summer's ephemeral pleasures: sailing, tennis, fishing, rainy-day reading. Time seems to stand still in a summer house, and for the Colts the Big House always seemed an unchanging place in a changing world. But summer draws to a close, and the family must eventually say good-bye.
"This book is full of uncertainty, wonder and surprise." The Economist
"Colt's account, like the house that lies at its center, is full of surprises...contains more than seems humanly possible." The New Yorker
"The Big House brings engagingly and memorably to life the house and the people who inhabited it." Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post
David Halberstam What a wonderful book. George Howe Colt has taken an original idea -- over four generations a house is a family and a family is a house -- and turned it into an uncommon success, becoming in the process the writer as family archaeologist. It's a book that stands in a line with The Late George Apley and The Proper Bostonians.
Adam Hochschild From the beautiful opening pages onward, you know you are in the hands of a masterful writer -- observant, subtle, eloquent at evoking the memories and feelings that rise up when our adult selves and childhood memories meet. But The Big House is more than that; George Howe Colt brings to life several generations of an entire extended family, and the reader, like someone growing from childhood to adulthood and like the reader of a fine novel, gradually learns that this book's charmed, alluring world is far more complex than it first appears.
Adrian Nicole LeBlanc This book is a true thing -- a careful opening into the rooms of origin, a meditation on loss and loving, a tender exploration of the mysteries of family. That George Howe Colt is a poet makes us especially lucky to be privy to his keen and generous company. In the fullness of a narrative fantastic with stories of his extraordinary ancestry, he honors what is precious without sentimentality, expresses intimacy without self-absorption, his wisdom rooted in humor and humility. I read it by my father's bedside as he lay dying, and felt safe inside this special book. Even more, I felt the steadying wonder of life.
Alec Wilkinson The Big House is about the long, slow separation from the beautiful past -- in this case a shingled house by the ocean, which Colt's ancestors built and his family occupied in the summer for generations. He writes gracefully, with restraint and deep feeling, and his book is a rare accomplishment.
"Six pages into this book, I said to myself, if Anthony Shadid continues like this, this book will be a classic. And page by page, he did continue, and he wrote a honest-to-God, hands-down, undeniable and instant classic. This is a book about war, and terrible loss, and a troubled region, and his own tattered family history, yes, but its written with the kind of levity and candor and lyricism we associate with, say, Junot Diaz — and that makes the book, improbably, both a compulsive read and one you dont want to end. I have no idea how Shadid pulled all this off while talking about the history of modern Lebanon, how he balanced ribald humor and great warmth with the sorrow woven into a story like this, but anyway, we should all be grateful that he did."
— Dave Eggers, author of Zeitoun and What Is the What "Anthony Shadids beautifully rendered memoir is a rich account of a mans gradual immersion into the world of the Middle East and the culture of the Levant, a kingdom almost unrecognizable today, where the rooms and hallways of his great-grandfathers house tell stories that will linger with every reader for decades." — André Aciman, author of Out of Egypt "House of Stone is poignant, aching, and at times laugh-out-loud funny . . . Shadid's writing is so lyrical it's like hearing a song." — David Finkel, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Good Soldier "House of Stone is a haunting, beautifully realized piece of writing." — Nick Flynn, author of The Ticking Is the Bomb "What a beautiful introduction to a world that I knew so little about. House of Stone is engaging, poignant, and funny." — Abraham Verghese, author of Cutting for Stone
"I was captivated, instantly, by Anthony Shadid's lushly evocative prose. Crumbling Ottoman outposts, doomed pashas, and roving bandits feel immediate, familiar, and relevant. Lose yourself in these pages, where empires linger, grandparents wander, and a battered Lebanon beckons us home. Savor it all. If Márquez had explored nonfiction, Macondo would feel as real as Marjayoun."
— Dave Cullen, author of Columbine
"Evocative and beautifully written, House of Stone . . . should be read by anyone who wishes to understand the agonies and hopes of the Middle East."
— Kai Bird, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and author of Crossing Mandelbaum Gate
"In rebuilding his family home in southern Lebanon, Shadid commits an extraordinarily generous act of restoration for his wounded land, and for us all."
— Annia Ciezadlo, author of Day of Honey
"Few books provide such a subtle, yet powerful insight into the tragedy of todays Middle East."
— Amin Maalouf, author of Origins: A Memoir
"A riveting, soulful, and candid journey . . ."
— Robin Wright, author of Rock the Casbah
Faced with the sale of the century-old family summer house on Cape Cod where he had spent forty-two summers, George Howe Colt returned for one last stay with his wife and children. This poignant tribute to the eleven-bedroom jumble of gables, bays, and dormers that watched over weddings, divorces, deaths, anniversaries, birthdays, breakdowns, and love affairs for five generations interweaves Colt's final visit with memories of a lifetime of summers.
Run-down yet romantic, The Big House stands not only as a cherished reminder of summer's ephemeral pleasures but also as a powerful symbol of a vanishing way of life.
A compelling saga of redemption and renewal from two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Anthony Shadid tells the story of rebuilding his family's ancestral home in Lebanon amid political strife, and his eventual understanding of the emotions behind the turbulence in the Middle East.
“Evocative and beautifully written, House of Stone
. . . should be read by anyone who wishes to understand the agonies and hopes of the Middle East.” — Kai Bird, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and author of Crossing Mandelbaum Gate
“In rebuilding his family home in southern Lebanon, Shadid commits an extraordinarily generous act of restoration for his wounded land, and for us all.” — Annia Ciezadlo, author of Day of Honey
In spring 2011, Anthony Shadid was one of four New York Times reporters captured in Libya, cuffed and beaten, as that country was seized by revolution. When he was freed, he went home. Not to Boston or Beirut—where he lives— or to Oklahoma City, where his Lebanese-American family had settled and where he was raised. Instead, he returned to his great-grandfathers estate, a house that, over three years earlier, Shadid had begun to rebuild.
House of Stone is the story of a battle-scarred home and a war correspondents jostled spirit, and of how reconstructing the one came to fortify the other. In this poignant and resonant memoir, the author of the award-winning Night Draws Near creates a mosaic of past and present, tracing the houses renewal alongside his familys flight from Lebanon and resettlement in America. In the process, Shadid memorializes a lost world, documents the shifting Middle East, and provides profound insights into this volatile landscape. House of Stone is an unforgettable meditation on war, exile, rebirth, and the universal yearning for home.
About the Author
ANTHONY SHADID (1968-2012), author of Night Draws Near, was an unparalleled chronicler of the human stories behind the news. He gained attention and awards, including the Pulitzer Prize, for his front-page reports in the Washington Post from Iraq. More recently, as Middle East correspondent for the New York Times, he covered the Arab Spring from Egypt to Libya (where he was held captive in March, 2011) to Syria. In 2010, he earned his second Pulitzer. Tragically, on February 16, 2012, he died while on assignment in Syria.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Bayt xiii
PART ONE: RETURNING
1. What the Silence Knows, July 30, 2006 3
2. Little Olive, August 10, 2007 14
3. Three Birds 35
4. Our Last Gentleman 49
5. Gold 65
6. Early Harvest 77
7. Dont Tell the Neighbors 88
8. Abu Jean, Does This Please You? 99
9. Mr. Chaya Appears 112
10. Last Whispers 128
11. Khairallas Oud 142
12. Citadels 155
PART TWO: AT HOME
13. Homesick 171
14. A Bush Called Rozana 181
15. Stupid Cat 197
16. Sitara 205
17. Salted Miqta 216
18. Passing Danger 232
19. Home 240
20. Worse Times 249
21. In the Name of the Father 259
22. Coming Home 269
23. Oh Laila 278
24. My Jedeida 286
Note to Readers 309