House of Sand and Fog
 Announced November 16, 2000
About the Book
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, a recovering alcoholic and addict whose house is all she has left, 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.
Andre Dubus III
About The Author
Before finding his calling as a writer, Andre Dubus III worked for brief stints as a bounty hunter, private investigator, carpenter, bartender, actor, and teacher. His first book, The Cage Keeper and Other Stories, was published in 1989, followed by 1993 by his first novel, Bluesman. For the next few years, he taught and did odd jobs as a carpenter while working on House of Sand and Fog. Much of that book was written in his car, which he often parked at a local cemetery in search of quiet and solitude. His characters were inspired by two people whose predicaments had stuck in his mind for years: a woman he read abut in the newspaper who was wrongfully evicted from her house and forced to live in her car, and a college friend's father, who had been a colonel in the Iranian air force and could only find menial jobs after fleeing to the United States.

Dubus' work has been awarded a Pushcart Prize and the 1985 National Magazine Award for Fiction. It has also been cited in The One Hundred Most Distinguished Stories of 1993 and The Best American Short Stories of 1994. He was one of three finalists for the 1994 Prix de Rome given by the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and House of Sand and Fog was a finalist for the 1999 National Book Award for Fiction.

Andre Dubus III is the son of Andre Dubus, a widely recognized master of short fiction who died in February 1999. He teaches in Emerson College's MFA in Writing program, and at Tufts University. He lives in Newburyport, Massachusetts, with his wife, dancer/choreographer Fontaine Dollas, and their three children.
Andre Dubus III
Exclusive Essay
Later, when I hoped, like my friend, that I might be able to write something, if only I could think of something to write about, I realized that the idea of this woman and the atmosphere I'd attached to her had stuck with me. For years, the opening scene of my novel, which I was then calling The Recluse, was an old woman watching from her window and reaching for her bb gun, as a little boy crept toward her house on a dare. But as I delved into her past-or rather made up things about her past--Amanda and Ruth emerged, and in their vividness, they pushed that woman aside. There's really no one like her in Drowning Ruth. She was a pinch of starter dough, but was so subsumed by the new loaf that I could start an entirely different novel with her today.

Once I had the characters-Imogene came along very early, as did Carl, although he was quite different at first, and Clement and Theresa Owens weren't far behind--they seemed so rich and interesting that I knew there had to be a story associated with them. Other scraps of my childhood helped me envision scenes from their lives-the creak of the ice expanding, the sting of raw wind, the smell of manure all around the schoolyard, the slipperiness of my little sister as she clung to me when she was learning to swim, my fear of my first grade teacher, my brother's black tooth, the tedious slowness of our old four horsepower motor-as did snippets I'd heard from my great aunts and grandparents and parents about card clubs, business college, and nursing school, the time my great grandfather put geese in the car, the parade in which my other great grandfather had been marching when he met my great grandmother, the dances at the lakeside pavilion and the bands you could hear all around the lake.

Finally, I had a whole world, like a great, gorgeous bolt of fabric, but still I didn't have a story, not one focused sequence of events that engaged these characters from the beginning of the book to the end. And although these imagined people and their surroundings and accoutrements alone were satisfying to me as a habitual daydreamer, I recognized that this was no way to run a novel. I had to think what they might do, and how that might involve the others, and how what they'd done in the beginning would make them behave at the end. So I had to cut up that fabric, rearrange the pieces and sew them back together. And then when one arm turned out too long or the bodice was on backwards, I had to do it again. I had to do that over and over, before I found a pattern that seemed true to those characters and to me. I don't recommend it, but that's how I got the idea.
Reading Group Discussion Questions
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  1.  Do you sympathize more with Kathy Nicolo or with Colonel Behrani in part one of the novel? How does Dubus's use of alternating first-person narratives affect your response to, and involvement with, the characters?
  2.  The contested ownership of the house on Bisgrove Street is the fulcrum of the novel's plot, Who, in your opinion, owns the house once Behrani has pain cash for it? What would be a fair solution to the conflict?
  3.  Early in the novel Behrani buys himself a hat, which he says gives him "the appearance of a man with a sense of humor about living, a man who is capable to live life for the living of it" [p.28]. Why is this a poignant thing for Behrani to wish for himself? Does he in fact take life too seriously?
  4.  What does Kathy's response to Nick's desertion reveal about her character? Why does Lester fall in love with Kathy? Is he better for her than Nick was?
  5.  Lester tells Kathy that he had wanted to become a teacher, but plans changed when Carol became pregnant. Is Lester's job in law enforcement a poor fit for him? Why did he once plant evidence in a domestic violence case?
  6.  Who, of the three main characters, is most complex? Who is most straightforward?
  7.  Where does the hostility between Lester and Behrani spring from? How do their memories — Lester's of his teenage girlfriend and her brother, Behrani's of his murdered cousin, Jasmeen — function to reveal the deep emotions that motivate action in this novel?
  8.  At what point do Kathy's and Lester's actions depart from the path of a simple desire for justice and move into something else? Why can neither of them seem to act rationally? Does Behrani act rationally?
  9.  Does Lester drink to break free of a sense of deadness, or to anesthetize himself? Why does he risk his family life as well as his professional life for his involvement with Kathy? Is he attempting to reinvigorate his life, or is he unconsciously seeking to destroy himself?
  1.  Note the epigraph to the novel, from "The Balcony" by Octavio Paz: "Beyond myself/somewhere/ I wait for my arrival." How does it apply to the problems of self and alienation in each of the three main characters? Who has the clearest sense of his or her identity? What does it mean to have a clear sense of self?
  2.  Describing the success of her recovery program, Kathy says, "I had already stopped wanted 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" [p. 46]. How does the novel affect your response to the social and psychological issues of addiction, depression, and suicide? Do you find yourself being understanding or judgmental of Kathy as the stress of the conflict increases? Is she actually more of a survivor than she things she is?
  3. Is Behrani's wife, Nadereh, an admirable character? Does her feminine role in a very traditional marriage reduce her importance as an actor in this drama? Does she have qualities that are missing in Behrani, Kathy, and Lester?
  4.  Behrani tells his son, "Remember what I've told you of so many Americans: they are not disciplined and have not the courage to take responsibility for their actions. IF these people paid to us the fair price we are asking, we could leave and she could return. It is that simple. But they are like little children, son. They want things only their way" [p.172]. How accurate is his perception of Americans? How well does it apply to Kathy and Lester?
  5.  How does House of Sand and Fog highlight the conflict between downwardly mobile Americans and upwardly mobile recent immigrants? What role does racism play in the reaction of Americans and foreigners to each other?
  6.  Why has Kathy avoided telling her mother and brother the truth about her situation? Does their meeting at the end of the novel resolve any of Kathy's difficult feelings about her place in her family?
  7.  Should Behrani be held responsible, on some level, for the crimes and excesses of the Shah's regime? Is he responsible for Esmail's fate?
  8.  Why does Behrani put on his military uniform at the climax of the novel?
  9.  What do you find most disturbing about the novel's denouement? Is you find yourself imagining an alternate ending, what would that ending be?


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