Sunday 17 November 2019

Book review: The House of Youssef, Yumna Kassab (2019)

This collection of short stories is separated into four parts. The first section is a series of stories mainly about young people and what they think. The second section is a series of stories about a family named Youssef (hence the title of the collection).

The third part is the first of two long narratives, this one focalised through the monologue of a father who is a migrant from Lebanon. He is speaking directly to the reader, as though the two were sitting face to face in a room. The fourth section is the monologue of a mother of about the same age as the man whose story occupies the third section; she is talking to one of her daughters. The man and the woman who focalise the narratives in these two sections seem to be husband and wife.

This is a wonderful book that is full of rare insights into a way of life that will be familiar to so many Australians. The tug of home and the ways of the old world compete with the opportunities offered by the new world, and with the ways it uses to organise the lives of the people who live in its communities. The normal problems that characterise relations between parents and their children are influenced by the demands of two, separate, cultures: two homelands.

As with all good fiction, you get a nuanced view of the world the author creates. While the demands made by a pluralistic Australian community are strong for the children, and sometimes rub the parents up the wrong way, the wisdom that is available from obeying the precepts of the foreign way of life – for example through frugality and through the deliberate exercise of restraint as a consumer – are equally worthy. Neither one way or the other offers answers to every single question; both deserve to be followed, each at different times.

I found so much here to think about and I put the Kindle down feeling replete. The way the book ends is perfectly fitting and lovely. I could have read twice as much and still have been entertained.

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