This Reader’s Response to Anthony Shadid’s HOUSE OF STONE

There were many reasons to pause and reflect on the sad passing of journalist Anthony Shadid in February 2012. At 43, he was only a few months my senior; he was a husband and a father of two young children; and he was a Pulitzer winner twice over (in 2004 and 2010, both times for his reporting on Iraq).

And there was this somehow stunning circumstance: Having placed himself in countless danger zones for his career—including Libya, where Colonel Muammar Qaddafi’s forces kidnapped, beat, and held him and three of his New York Times colleagues for six days just last year—it was, in the end, an asthma attack, evidently prompted by the dust and horses that were part and parcel of his final assignment, in that nightmare that is contemporary Syria, that felled him.

But as I read the first accounts of Shadid’s death and absorbed the many tributes that poured in, my sadness gained another tinge: anxiety. And that nervousness began as I read the final paragraphs of the Times’s report on the passing of its employee:

Mr. Shadid also had a penchant for elegiac prose. In the opening of a new book, “House of Stone,” to be published next month, he described what he had witnessed in Lebanon after Israeli air assaults in the summer of 2006:

“Some suffering cannot be covered in words,” he wrote. “This had become my daily fare as reporter in the Middle East documenting war, its survivors and fatalities, and the many who seem a little of both. In the Lebanese town of Qana, where Israeli bombs caught their victims in the midst of a morning’s work, we saw the dead standing, sitting, looking around. The village, its voices and stories, plates and bowls, letters and words, its history, had been obliterated in a few extended moments that splintered a quiet morning.”

I was not alone in my discomfiture. Andrew Silow-Carroll, editor-in-chief of New Jersey Jewish News, expressed my own sentiments well: “It’s a horrifying account, and I don’t doubt its veracity. Plus it comes from a forthcoming book, so it is timely. But it is either strange or telling that in an appreciation of a reporter who covered conflict throughout the Middle East, much of it Arab vs. Arab strife and civil war, the one example of his prose is an account of an Israeli attack on Arabs.” For its part, Shadid’s previous employer, The Boston Globe, eulogized him in a way that also made me queasy, depicting Israel as evil perpetrator when the journalist was wounded in Ramallah during the second Palestinian intifada in 2002.

House of Stone’s publisher released the book early, less than two weeks after Shadid’s death. I opened my review copy with some trepidation.

The rest of this essay is about what I found there. (more…)

Jewish Literary Links for Shabbat

Photo Credit: Reut Miryam Cohen
  • The new issue of Moment magazine features Jewish fiction throughout. See especially the symposium, “Is There Such a Thing as Jewish Fiction?” (with a preface from the magazine’s new Fiction Editor, Alan Cheuse); the winning entries in the Publish-a-Kid Contest; and, in this (atypical) free digital copy of the entire issue, Racelle Rosett’s short story, “Shidach.”
  • Another short story well worth your time: Adam Berlin’s “Aryan Jew.”
  • And speaking of short stories: Here’s a chance to win a free copy of Edith Pearlman’s Binocular Vision (or a copy of my collection, Quiet Americans).
  • Adam Kirsch has reviewed Laurent Binet’s HHhH (trans. Sam Taylor).
  • My latest micro-essay, which takes place within the Centre de Documentation Juive Contemporaine (CDJC) in Paris, appears in the current issue of Hippocampus Magazine.
  • If you’re in Israel, you’ll want to take note of the extraordinary program and presenters for “Tsuris and Other Literary Pleasures,” a free creative-writing conference that begins on Sunday.
  • Shabbat shalom.

    Jewish Literary Links for Shabbat

    Photo Credit: Reut Miryam Cohen
  • I’m sorry that it took me nearly all month to discover that the “Jewesses with Attitude” blog has been presenting a series of posts about and by American Jewish women poets to celebrate National Poetry Month.
  • The URJ’s Rabbi Rick Jacobs published a beautiful piece this week for Yom HaZikaron/Yom HaAtzmaut that spotlighted the memory of Uri Grossman, son of Israeli author David Grossman.
  • I have been enjoying author Debra Spark’s guest posts over on the Jewish Book Council’s blog (The ProsenPeople).
  • When you read Judy Bolton-Fasman’s “A Jubana Mother Gives Advice to Her Tragically Gringa Daughter” you, too, will be eager to read Judy’s memoir-in-progress.
  • One of this week’s personal highlights: discovering this sensitive and generous review of Quiet Americans on Amazon.
  • Shabbat shalom.

    “What Must Be Said”: Günter Grass, My Book & Me

    In 2006, Günter Grass’s confession that he’d been a member of the Waffen SS surprised me. But it didn’t depress me. It didn’t anger me. Grass seemed appropriately ashamed and regretful. I knew him to be an advocate for Germany’s recognition of its Nazi past. He wasn’t asking for my forgiveness, but he would have had it, anyway.

    I’d read the closing words of his 2002 novel, Crabwalk, as a regretful but accepting acknowledgment of the lasting reverberations of this past, for all of us. Those lines—“It doesn’t end. Never does it end.”—moved me so deeply that I included them as one of two epigraphs for my short story collection, Quiet Americans. (The other epigraph, also from a Nobel laureate, is Imre Kertész’s “Which writer today is not a writer of the Holocaust?”) My book is inspired largely by the histories and experiences of my paternal grandparents, German Jews who immigrated to the U.S. in the late 1930s, and by my preoccupations with that legacy. The suggestions of the Holocaust’s enduring presence in other people’s minds, souls, and history seemed to be encapsulated in these lines. In fact, Grass and Crabwalk received another mention in one of the book’s stories, as part of the narrator’s point about wartime sufferings endured by non-Jewish German civilians. (Which, I believe, remains valid.)

    But now I have to look at the Grass epigraph differently. (more…)

    Jewish Literary Links for Shabbat

    Photo Credit: Reut Miryam Cohen
  • “The Story,” one of the stories in Edith Pearlman’s Binocular Vision that I found most affecting, has recently been posted online.
  • Coming soon at the Sixth Street Synagogue in NYC: the wordSpoke Poetry Festival.
  • Mazel tov to Herman Wouk on his latest book deal!
  • Jonathan Kirsch weighs in on Peter Beinart’s new book.
  • Looking ahead to next week: My Machberet will welcome guest blogger Ellen Cassedy. Get to know the author of We Are Here: Memories of the Lithuanian Holocaust before her “appearance” here.
  • Last call for my Sunday afternoon event with the City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism here in NYC. Perhaps I’ll see you there?
  • And as the holiday draws to a close, D.G. Myers considers Passover in fiction.
  • Shabbat shalom!