Meeting with a book club forces me to read things I wouldn’t normally come across. I wouldn’t normally access books from Oprah’s Book Club, for instance. I’m glad of the opportunity however, for I have come across a range of fascinating material in the form of stories and dilemmas that would not arise out of my normal spectrum of reading material. Take House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III, (Sceptre, 1999)
I would not have picked it up in a fit in a book shop – title obscure, not in my habitual book bays, don’t know the author, etc. As “assigned reading” where you know you are going to engage in discussion with your reading peers, however, it becomes compelling.
And in this instance at least, the narrative is most compelling. Set in current day California, it is a story of bureaucratic bungling that brings unsought conflict between the interests of an immigrant family and a lonely woman recovering from a relationship breakdown colored with drug addiction. Each has just cause, neither has a clear path towards resolution. The consequence from unfolding events is a tragedy of Greek proportions.
And this is where a book I would normally have passed by becomes a source of reflection for matters with which I am deeply engaged on a daily basis. I am deeply involved with families and individuals whose circumstances bring them into cultural, psychological and spiritual conflict socially and with officialdom. Heaven knows I get caught up in this myself and have to ask where I am being compromised and “what is the way of wisdom?” What is at stake and what can be surrendered for the sake of the community’s ultimate good? To answer that question in the context of this plot puts each of the characters in a position where the kind of sacrifice they would need to make would be more than could be reasonably asked of anyone. The temptation will be for some to say that the immigrant family should be more flexible, but why should they be the only ones to bend? Particularly when they are assimilating the values of their adopted country?
And does my habitual advocacy reaction colour my own assessment here?
Ahhh, Thomas, so many questions – so few answers!