My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The book begins in the late 1980s with Kathy Nicolo,a former drug addict and alcoholic, being wrongly evicted from her home left to her by her deceased father and this event ignites a series of episodes that spin out of control, leading to death and imprisonment for some of the people involved.
The catalyst: the county puts up Kathy’s house in an auction where an ex-Colonel in the Iranian air force named Massoud Behrani purchases the house for his family in hopes of later selling the house for a profit. Once the mistake has been recognized by the county, Mr. Behrani refuses to sell back the home at the original price which would end the entire conflict and resolve the matter. Instead of doing what is morally right, Behrani refuses and asks three times as much for the house, and this greed, along with his pride, will lead to the demise of him and his family. Sheriff Deputy Lester Burdon, the one involved in the eviction, falls in love with Kathy, leaves his wife, and begins a high octane affair that propels him forward into trying to force Behrani to sell back the home. But things get out of control when Behrani’s son Esmail grabs Lester’s gun in front of the county office where Behrani would have finalized the sell of the house back to the county. Part romance and part tragedy, House of Sand and Fog does not have a happy ending. What is really exciting is to read and watch these characters (namely Kathy, Lester, and Behrani) become what they most dislike in others around them.
What stood out for me was the concept of how important an inanimate object such as a house could become so vital and so alive for Kathy and Mr. Behrani. They would do anything for the house, and both of their motives revolved around their families. The struggle over this house, which bears the somewhat eponymous title, is just as relevant today where people are losing their homes to foreclosures as it was when it was first published, later becoming an Oprah choice for her book club in 2000. Obviously the public recognized something in the fight for a material object as a simple and as complex as a house, a home.
Dubus does an incredible job bringing the characters alive and adding layer upon layer of conflict and emotion and a humanity easily recognizable, even for an immigrant like Behrani. The Iranian identities and histories are vivid in the portrayal of Behrani’s personal past as a colonel and his own struggle to achieve the American dream after losing everything because of the Iranian revolution. ”For our excess,” thinks Behrani, ”we lost everything” (p. 329). A statement so true and haunting it even reflects the state of affairs residing in the current American economy.
The writing is sharp and filled with constant verisimilitude, and so often as it does in acclaimed books published these days, the writer’s hand is so focused and well-trained that the language rarely jumps off the page as extraordinary. Readers demand simplicity, and it must have something to do with the fact that the reading level of the average American is somewhere between the eighth and ninth grade reading levels (Cormac McCarthy be damned; the older McCarthy works are nothing like his recent books published in the last ten years or so; it would seem he too has simplified his rhetoric to serve the average reader). But this book was written and published almost a decade and a half ago, so I would believe Dubus’s current material is truly singing off the page by now.
Nevertheless, there were two spots (yes, just two places in the book) that did stand out to me as remarkable. First, ”The Latino stopped and Lester felt his finger slide over the sheen of oil on the trigger, his heart pulsing in his nails” (p 229). This is talent attempting to burst free from its cage, as we will see later towards the end. Most of the book, however, is filled with clever similes that do in fact show an image, but these similes are so often used that the device the writer is using becomes too noticeable and, therefore, falls into the category of cheap tricks.
This next passage is on the talent-level of Cormac McCarthy and the kind of writing I hope to read in books these days, but rarely find.
”The crowd had grown; kids tried to make their way through to stand on their skateboards and look over the shoulders of lawyers and secretaries, of women still in their aerobics class sweats, of shoppers and store owners and salesgirls, all looking at the colonel now, at the boy’s blood on the sidewalk, at the five sheriff’s deputies, and at the man the bald handcuffed foreigner was yelling about, at Lester Burdon, who felt he was in the presence of a moment already dreamed and now real, not an accident, nothing random, but ordered and logical, and inevitable expression of who he really was” (p. 324).
Now that is writing. I just wished I could have read more of it in this book.
Regardless of comparisons, House of Sand and Fog is a book, as the Boston Globe described, ”with a beating heart.” A strong recommend for a haunting, thrilling read.
CG FEWSTON is an American novelist who is a member of AWP, a member of Americans for the Arts, and a professional member and advocate of the PEN American Center, advocating for the freedom of expression around the world.
CG FEWSTON has travelled across continents and visited such places as Mexico, the island of Guam, Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Macau, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Singapore, Thailand, Taipei and Beitou in Taiwan, Bali in Indonesia, and Guilin and Shenzhen and Beijing in China. He also enjoys studying and learning French, Vietnamese, Cantonese and Mandarin.
CG FEWSTON earned an M.Ed. in Higher Education Leadership and Administration (honors), an M.A. in Literature (honors) from Stony Brook University, and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and Fiction from Southern New Hampshire University, where he had the chance to work with wonderful and talented novelists like Richard Adams Carey (author of In the Evil Day, October 2015; and, The Philosopher Fish, 2006) and Jessica Anthony (author of Chopsticks, 2012; and, The Convalescent, 2010) as well as New York Times Best-Selling novelists Matt Bondurant (author of The Night Swimmer, 2012; and, The Wettest County in the World, 2009, made famous in the movie Lawless, 2012) and Wiley Cash (author of A Land More Kind Than Home, 2013; and, This Dark Road to Mercy, 2014).
Among many others, CG FEWSTON’S stories, photographs and essays have appeared in Sediments Literary–Arts Journal, Bohemia, Ginosko Literary Journal, GNU Journal (“Hills Like Giant Elephants”), Tendril Literary Magazine, Prachya Review (“The One Who Had It All”), Driftwood Press, The Missing Slate Literary Magazine (“Darwin Mother”), Gravel Literary Journal, Foliate Oak Magazine, The Writer’s Drawer, Moonlit Road, Nature Writing, and Travelmag: The Independent Spirit; and for several years he was a contributor to Vietnam’s national premier English newspaper, Tuoi Tre, “The Youth Newspaper.”
You can read more about CG FEWSTON and his writing at
A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN won GOLD for Literary Classics’ 2015 best book in the category under ”Special Interest” for “Gender Specific – Female Audience”…
Finalist in the 2015 Chatelaine Awards for Romantic Fiction…
Finalist in the 2015 Mystery & Mayhem Novel Writing Contest…
Praise for A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN:
“Fewston delivers an atmospheric and evocative thriller in which an American government secret agent must navigate fluid allegiances and murky principles in 1970s Tehran… A cerebral, fast-paced thriller.”
“A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN is a thrilling adventure which takes place in pre-revolutionary Tehran. Author CG FEWSTON provides a unique glimpse into this important historical city and its rich culture during a pivotal time in its storied past. This book is so much more than a love story. Skillfully paired with a suspenseful tale of espionage, A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN is a riveting study of humanity. Replete with turns & twists and a powerful finish, FEWSTON has intimately woven a tale which creates vivid pictures of the people and places in this extraordinary novel.”
CG FEWSTON‘s new novel,
A TIME TO LOVE IN TEHRAN, was published on April 2, 2015 —
10 years to the day of the publication
of his first novella, A FATHER’S SON (April 2, 2005)
“Thus one skilled at giving rise to the extraordinary
is as boundless as Heaven and Earth,
as inexhaustible as the Yellow River and the ocean.
Ending and beginning again,
like the sun and moon. Dying and then being born,
like the four seasons.”
found in Sources of Chinese Tradition, p 5