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House of Sand and Fog [Paperback]

Andre Dubus III
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Jan 2000
"Elegant and powerful...an unusual and volatile...literary thriller." --Washington Post Book World

In this riveting novel of almost unbearable suspense, three fragile yet determined people become dangerously entangled in a relentlessly escalating crisis. Colonel Behrani, once a wealthy man in Iran, is now a struggling immigrant willing to bet everything he has to restore his family's dignity. Kathy Niccolo is a recovering alcoholic and addict whose house is all she has left, and who refuses to let her hard-won stability slip away from her. Sheriff Lester Burdon, a married man who finds himself falling in love with Kathy, becomes obsessed with helping her fight for justice.

Drawn by their competing desires to the same small house in the California hills--and what it represents to each of them--and doomed by their tragic inability to understand one another, the three converge on an explosive collision course. Combining unadorned realism with profound empathy, House of Sand and Fog is a devastating exploration of the American Dream gone awry.

Product details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Vintage Books (Jan 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375708413
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375708411
  • Product Dimensions: 20.1 x 13 x 2.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (48 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 964,615 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Amazon Review

Andre Dubus III wastes no time in capturing the dark side of the immigrant experience in America at the end of the 20th century. "House of Sand and Fog" opens with a highway crew comprising several nationalities picking up litter on a hot California summer day. Massoud Amir Behrani, a former colonel in the Iranian military under the Shah, reflects on his job-search efforts since arriving in the US four years before: "I have spent hundreds of dollars copying my credentials; I have worn my French suits and my Italian shoes to hand-deliver my qualifications; I have waited and then called back after the correct waiting time; but there is nothing". A father of two, Behrani has spent most of the money he brought with him from Iran on an apartment and furnishings that are too expensive, desperately trying to keep up appearances in order to enhance his daughter's chances of making a good marriage. Now the daughter is married, he sinks his remaining funds into a house he buys at auction, thus unwittingly putting himself and his family on a trajectory with disaster. The house, it seems, once belonged to Kathy Nicolo, a self-destructive alcoholic who wants it back. What starts out as a legal tussle soon escalates into a personal confrontation--with dire results.

Dubus tells his tragic tale from the viewpoints of the two main adversaries, Behrani and Kathy. To both of them, the house represents something more than just a place to live. For the colonel, it is a foot in the door of the American Dream; for Kathy, a reminder of a kinder, gentler past. In prose that is simple yet evocative The House of Sand and Fog builds to its inevitable denouement: one that is painfully dark but unfailingly honest. --Alix Wilber --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


"The finest novel of the year... Enormously affecting" (Time Out Book of the Year)

"One of the best American novels I've ever read... A stunning book... No one who reads this novel will ever forget it" (James Lee Burke)

"A novel of tremendous impact" (Sunday Times)

"Stunning and original... From the moment one starts to read their story, one has no choice but to stay with these characters until the end ... Beautiful, gripping and highly intelligent" (The Times)

"A story of remarkable power and veracity and tenderness" (Tobias Wolff) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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First Sentence
THE FAT ONE, THE RADISH TOREZ, HE CALLS ME CAMEL BECAUSE I AM Persian and because I can bear this August sun longer than the Chinese and the Panamanians and even the little Vietnamese Tran. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A literate, compulsive read 7 May 2001
By A Customer
"House of Sand and Fog" is the story of people whose dreams, though fairly ordinary and mostly achievable, turn out to be built of highly illusive materials, such as sand (upon which you cannot build a house) and fog (through which you cannot see the truth).
Author Dubus tells the story from the perspective of three characters: Kathy Nicolo, who owns and loses a modest, 3-bedroom bungalow in northern California and who is a recovering coke addict and alcoholic; a former colonel from the Shah's Iranian military and now a legal citizen of America who acquires Kathy's house through a county auction; and an intelligent though troubled and dissatisfied American policemen who starts a relationship with Kathy after serving the official eviction notice
This is a book as much about the effects of bureaucratic mistakes and their attendant nightmares, as it is about people and their almost fated inabilities to break free of bad habits and destructive behaviours. At the same time, it's about life in a free country, dreams of betterment, and shaking free of the past.
Big themes. Well handled.
The different perspectives show the American dream and our unalienable rights --- shelter, prosperity, the pursuit of happiness or, failing that, at least a decent enough relationship. The reader is never really certain which character deserves the most empathy; they each have their fatal flaws and also their very real charms.
As the story builds to its tragic conclusion, you will find yourself completely gripped and increasingly worried. This is a page-turner. And it's very, very good. While the book could have done with some good editing towards the end --- maybe ten or 15 fewer pages, especially regarding Les Burdon, the policeman --- it is well worth reading and really memorable.
Highly recommended.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful discovery. 17 Sep 2004
By A Customer
Other reviewers have described this book as unpredictable - it certainly is. There are so many twists and turns in this book, without it seeming they have been added for effect. The central characters are well drawn, the story original and profoundly touching and the ending...well, as others have suggested, it will wrench your heart. This book is a wonderful discovery and I can see why they have made it into a film, but cannot imagine how any film could do justice to the depth of the novel. It may sound trite to say it, but this book is worth your time. Wonderful.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A surprise development on each page 19 Aug 2004
By Christine L HALL OF FAME
This has to be the most unpredictable book I've ever read. Every time I thought I had the characters or the plot figured out the story took a new turn and surprised me all over again.
It's certainly not a light read and I wouldn't say that it falls into the page turner category, but it was one of the most unusual and eventful books I've read in a long time. Andre Dubus manages to describe the environment and the inner turmoil of the characters in a very accurate way and with an interesting and colourful choice of words.
There's no hero in this book. There are no innocents (other than perhaps the Colonel's son). The main characters are treated both with the sympathy and contempt they deserve. Rather than falling for the obvious trap of making one person the victim, Dubus shows them for what they are, human and fallible, and this only adds to the readability of this book. As the reader you're torn between whom to side with as you can see both parties' point of view, but nothing will prepare you for the ending.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A challenging but good read 5 Sep 2002
By pcbee
Well written and a plot which makes you keep reading to find out what happens - which is what a good read is all about. The device of having alternating chapters from the viewpoint of the various players works well. However the author sometimes has the Iranian Colonel thinking in broken English which grates a bit - given that he probably thought in perfect farsi - which should of course be translated into perfect English. But this is a minor point which doesen't take away from the overall enjoyment of the novel. I think one of your reviewers suggested it was "overwritten" in terms of the description of places and people. I agree his descriptions and characterisations are not as light as say JG Ballard - so it can be hard work - but worth the effort. I think a lighter touch wouldn't have worked as we really need that level of detail to get into the heads of the characters and for the narrative to work.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Persian immigrant, Massoud Amir Behrani, is a former colonel in the late, deposed Iranian Shah's air force, and a man who takes life very seriously. He is an intelligent, well educated man, who used to be respected in Iran as a person of position, power, and means. Behrani's former life, with all his efforts to build it, seems like it was constructed on a sea of shifting sand. He came to America with his wife, son, and daughter four years ago, with limited funds, and has spent almost all of his money setting his family up in the manner to which they had been accustomed. Appearances mean much to Behrani. His dream of attracting a wealthy, eligible suitor for his daughter by living above his meager means, has been realized. His daughter is finally married, and established in her own home. After extensive job searches, he is reduced to working as a trash collector on the California highways with other immigrants; men he would have given alms to in his native land. Angry and humiliated at how far he has fallen, Behrani decides to invest his remaining funds in a house that has been put up for auction at a Sheriff's Sale, because the owner had not paid back property taxes. He wants to restore the house and sell it at a large profit, which he hopes will enable him to provide his family with their former lifestyle, and restore some of his lost dignity.
Kathy Nicolo is a depressed, quietly self-destructive woman; a recovering alcoholic and addict. Describing the success of her recovery program, Kathy says, "I had already stopped wanting what I'd been craving off and on since I was fifteen, for Death to come take me the way the wind does a dried leaf out on its limb." Her house, in the California hills, is all she has. It is a symbol of stability, and a reminder of a gentler past.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars It started well, but I found the characters annoying
I really enjoyed this book when I started reading it. However, that changed about half the way through. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Jennifer
4.0 out of 5 stars interesting
I really enjoyed the first half of this book but then I began to feel it was getting to be unbelievable. Read more
Published 8 months ago by pauline walker
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
A very different read. It was proposed as a title for our book club and I'm glad I read it.The members rated it highly although views were diverse. It led to a lot of discussion.
Published 11 months ago by Cartyan
4.0 out of 5 stars Hardyesque Drama in Elmore Leonard Territory
I found myself becoming quite immersed in this book and, at times, wanted to step into the pages and warn the characters of the consequences of their actions. Read more
Published 20 months ago by John Fitzpatrick
1.0 out of 5 stars Filthy
This book is filthy. It was sold under the heading 'very good' but I threw it out because I did not want to handle it. Read more
Published on 19 July 2012 by Expro
4.0 out of 5 stars An enjoyable character study
Genob Sarhang Massoud Amir Behrani is as proud and pompous as his name suggests, even though the former Colonel in the Shah's Iranian air force now works as a road cleaner in the... Read more
Published on 9 Oct 2011 by George Hamilton
5.0 out of 5 stars The Pathos...
This is a gripping novel, from beginning to end, with themes even more relevant today than when it was written, in 1999. Read more
Published on 17 Jan 2011 by John P. Jones III
1.0 out of 5 stars miserable book!
There was enough holes in the story line to make a calander! Started with promise and deteriated from then on with pages of irrelevant ramblings in between that did not help the... Read more
Published on 20 Sep 2010 by V R Holland
3.0 out of 5 stars excellent writing, but connived story
i would hate to give this book less than three stars purely on the basis of the author's writing style alone. he has you glued. Read more
Published on 9 July 2010 by seldon
I began this book with high hopes, which sadly it failed to satisfy. In part I guess that was because the story is something of a contrivance, in part because the author seems... Read more
Published on 9 July 2010 by Barry McCanna
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