House of Sand and Fog

A story about an Iranian family's interaction with a troubled American woman, House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III is truly a masterpiece. Kathy Nicolo is evicted from her house because of a bureaucratic error and Colonel Behrani, once a wealthy Iranian who has to flee because of the 1979 Revolution, buys her house in government auction. Sheriff Lester Burdon finds himself inexplicably falling in love with Kathy, even though he is married, and determined to help her fight with whatever means necessary to regain her house. The Colonel, at the start of the novel, is working two jobs a day, picking up trash on the side of the highway in the blaring California sun and working in a convenience store at night. Yet, he doesn't want his family to think he's not working like pooldar (the weathly) and wears a suit out of the house in the morning to keep up appearances for his wife, Nadi and son, Esmail. I admire the Colonel for what he is doing. Although he might have a shady past in Iran, it's his desire to protect his family that makes him do what he does. So when he sees a house put up for a good sale, he immediately jumps on the opportunity to create a profit to get the funds necessary for a university education for Esmail. It's not as simple as that, with Kathy and the Sheriff fighting as hard as they can to stop him from doing so. Yet neither the Colonel nor Kathy have broken the law - so they're in this terrible moral quandry. Kathy has a troubled past; her husband left her, she's a recovering drug addict, and refuses to reach out to her family. So while there's this sense of sympathy the reader feels for her, she just keeps making the wrong decisions. It was made into a movie in 2003 (trailer here), and reviews were positive, one saying "You feel you not only know these people but where they come from" [x] The novel turns into a thriller in the end (brace yourself for a surprising ending) and Dubus does a fantastic job of giving the reader a peek into the dynamic of a once-wealthy Iranian family and the struggles of woman attempting to gain stability in her life. Rating: ★★★★


The Stolen Child

A fairy-tale for adults, Keith Donohue's novel The Stolen Child is the story of the double life of Henry Day. Inspired by the W. B. Yeats poem The Stolen Child, "...Come away, O human child!/To the waters and the wild..." Donohue's novel centers around the idea of changelings, faeries who kidnap human children and replace them with one of their own. Then the kidnapped child becomes a changeling and waits for his turn to re-enter the world. The changelings live for decades, frozen in the body they were kidnapped in, unable to grow until they switch with a human children. The real Henry Day is kidnapped, and switched with a changeling who has been waiting for a little under a century. The human Henry Day becomes Aniday, the changeling. The unnamed changeling becomes Henry Day, a perfect son. The parallel stories of the Henry Days unfold through their respective perspectives. Originally, I found Henry Day's narration (the new Henry Day, not the changeling Aniday who was formerly Henry Day) more riveting because it showed him struggling with concealing his history, pre-changeling and changeling, as he tries to fit back into the human world. Yet, at the end of the novel, I liked Aniday as a narrator better because of his overarching transformation. The novel itself a really interesting commentary on identity - how the changelings completely transform into a human - the physical appearance is identical, yet the personality and the qualities change. Mr. Day had his suspicions about the changing nature of his son, but Mrs. Day never seemed to notice - or didn't want to. The Stolen Child is completely grounded in reality, besides the idea of the changeling, and the novel scarily seems completely plausible. The novel is prefaced with lines from the poet Louise Glück, "We look at the world once, in childhood. The rest is memory." Rating: ★★★★