Our reading group, Fiction and Friends, met for supper and booktalk at my house last night. Sarab's choice (which we'd sidelined for several months saying that we didn't want to read "something depressing") turned out to be a real page turner, tightly plotted, and populated with strong characters.
The House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III, is told through alternating first person accounts by the book's main protagonists; Behrani, a former colonel in the Iranian military under the Shah who has been forced to flee by the revolution, and Kathy Nicolo, a self-destructive and confused young woman who is evicted from her house after a bureaucratic mix-up over unpaid taxes.
Behrani buys the house at auction, seeing it as a way of climbing the first rung of the property ladder in America and ensuring economic security for his family. The homeless Kathy falls into a destructive relationship with Lester, the cop who evicted her, spirals into emotional chaos. The struggle over the ownership of the house moves from legal niceities to physical tussle and a chain of events is set in motion which lead inevitably to tragedy.
The whole group gave a thumbs-up to the book, but the discussion was very interesting. I thought both of the main protagonists very strongly drawn and sympathetic, but the rest of them were so passionately on the side of Behrani, (the dignified immigrant, keeping up a front to ensure that his daughter marries well - wasn't this how any Asian father would behave?) that they tended to villify Kathy ("cheap white trash"!). Of course, I felt I honour-bound to defend her, and it made for a lively debate.
But if I had a problem with the book it was that, (like all too many contemporary American novels in my opinion) it felt like it was written with one eye on Hollywood. (And indeed, it has been filmed, apparently very successfully)