House of Sand and Fog

by Andre Dubus Iii

Hardcover, 1999

Call number




W. W. Norton & Company (1999), Edition: 1st, 368 pages


A recent immigrant from the Middle East--a former colonel in the Iranian Air Force--yearns to restore his family's dignity in California. A recovering alcoholic and addict down on her luck struggles to hold onto the one thing she has left'her home. And her lover, a married cop, is driven to extremes to win her love.Andre Dubus III's unforgettable characters--people with ordinary flaws, looking for a small piece of ground to stand on--careen toward inevitable conflict. Their tragedy paints a shockingly true picture of the country we live in today.

User reviews

LibraryThing member richardderus
Rating: 4.75* of five

The Book Report: Behrani. An exiled colonel in the Shah's army. Kathy. A fucked-up druggie living off her inheritance. Lester. A major idiot whose law-enforcement career is his last best shot at staying off welfare.

Not one of these people will leave this book better than they
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entered it. Kathy's only home is the one she inherited, and the county says it's not hers anymore because she hasn't paid the taxes. She has, though. She's completely unable to function in the world because she's hazed on drugs for so long that even when she's clean she can't think straight. That means she can't figure out how to prove she has complied with the law.

Behrani can't get an American life going. He has savings (one hesitates to imagine where the money came from originally) that barely keep him afloat, and jobs that demean him but are all a man with no skills except being an Army officer can get. But his son's college money is sufficient to buy a distressed property at auction. Kathy's home, as it turns out. He plans to renovate and flip it, using this as a stepping-stone to American Dream-level prosperity.

Lester comes in as the deputy assigned to be sure Kathy gets out of the home that's no longer hers. Love at first sight! Lame-o Lester and Loser Kathy...surely the white trash Romeo and Juliet!

Pretty much.

Dubus drags us through the legal system as the parties battle out the rights and wrongs of the case. No one here is a good person, just a greedy selfish prick who deserves what, in the end, is meted out to them by the author's just and pitiless exercise of karmic debt collection.

My Review: NOT an uplifting book. My withers were wrung about every twenty pages, and I took frequent breaks in order to console myself with excessive liquor consumption and sordid sexual escapades.

I love a book that brings out the best in me.

There's a scene where Lame-o Lester gets his first-ever BJ from Loser Kathy, which Dubus goes into in a bizarrely flat and affectless way that completely desxualizes the act, makes it a symptom of a pathology and not an erotic or intimate or even sexy development. It's just part of the sickness pervading these broken, unfixable people's existences.

Did you *get* that? A man wrote about the thing most men want more than food and only slightly less than air, and made it *unappealing*.

Dubus is a master of his craft. He is an artist. He can do anything he wants with words to make them dance in the reader's head to HIS tune, screw whatever you were expecting, reader! He can fashion a story that, in its outlines, sounds juicy and ripe with conflict, and make it a sharp object that will deflate whatever happy illusions were still in your head about yourself and this Murrikin Dream we're supposed to be having, reader!

And that is why you should read this book.
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LibraryThing member mzonderm
I tend not to like books about people who seem incapable of making good decisions. And one of the characters in this book is definitely like that. She just never seems able (or willing) to take any responsible action. Realistic this may be, but it's also annoying.

Another main character, on the
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other hand, tends to make good decisions. Decisions that are responsible financially, good for his family, and on the right side of the law. And yet, things don't turn out well for him either.

If this is a book the purpose of which is to show how quickly things can spiral out of control, then it succeeds. Good decisions or bad, no-one wins here. Too many of us, who manage to have lives that are more or less in control, this is a valuable thing to learn about. But this is an awfully depressing education.
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LibraryThing member seekingflight
An Iranian flees for his life with his family to America, taking menial jobs to support them and hiding this from his family, who are living beyond their means in the hopes that this will enable their daughter to marry well. He buys a house at auction for less than it’s worth, hoping that he can
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sell it for a profit, and sees his wife finally start smiling and blossoming in these new surroundings.

A woman is evicted from her house, after ignoring several letters from the tax office, due to a bureaucratic error.

One of the officers responsible for her eviction becomes concerned with her plight.

These three protagonists are realistically and sympathetically drawn. I found myself empathising with all three (as distinct, perhaps, from liking them). They make one stupid decision after the other, as their paths bring them into conflict with one another, but you can understand why they’re doing the things they do, even as things spiral more and more out of control.

The stream-of-consciousness style could be perceived as drawn-out and excessively detailed, but I actually found it very readable, and a good entree into the minds of each of the characters.

I realised while reading this book that one of the joys of reading, for me, is the way in which it allows me to get into the heads of people quite unlike me. This book was a success for me for this reason.
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LibraryThing member kateiyzie
Hard to pinpoint what made this the best book in a long time. The main character, an Iranian was immediately fascinating, and you were on his side within a couple of pages. The atmosphere seemed ordinary--modern-day California, but the author's descriptions made it dreamy for me. Tried to be
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sympathetic to the irritating woman who loses her house, but I was rooting for the Iranian already. The ending was hard to accept, and I wished for a different outcome.
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LibraryThing member Bookmarque
Up next an uplifting book about a cop chasing a serial killer.

Seriously. Almost anything would be less bleak and tragic than this story. About a third of the way in you will realize that no one can come out of this situation well. No one.

It’s easy to sympathize with the Behrani family who came
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to the US when the Shah was deposed in Iran. He was a Colonel in the air force and thought it would be easy to get a job with Boeing or McDonnell Douglas here, but he didn’t. He’s been fooling the world with fake wealth for years in an effort to get their daughter married well. Now she has, dad quits his menial jobs (of which his whole family are ignorant) and invests their remaining savings in a foreclosed house. All well and good. Except that house was foreclosed on in error. A literal typo - wrong address. Still, the house is legally his and his whole future hinges on being able to sell it at a profit.

The former owner, Kathy, has little recourse except to sue the county. You’d think there’d be sympathy for her, too, but it’s her own fault. She willfully threw away county letters unopened. If she’d read at least one of them the entire disaster could have been avoided. Depressed that her husband left her, she can’t be bothered. She goes to legal aid to see what she can do now it’s gone too far and is delusional and pig-headed about her standing. It was really hard to feel bad for her at all.

Then there’s Lester. The deputy sheriff on hand for her eviction. He falls for her and systematically throws away his marriage, his kids, his job and finally his freedom for this woman. Sure, the sex is hot, but the fog doesn’t only obliterate the landscape, but possibly good sense as well. Both of them are so self-destructive and stupid that they deserve each other. It’s just so much sadder that they take everyone else down with them.

Fog is mentioned a lot in the novel and it is a lovely metaphor for everyone’s cloudy judgment and rationality. They’re all crazy and blinded by emotions and cultural misunderstandings. If it wasn’t so gut-wrenchingly awful it would be funny.

Dubus can write the paint off the walls though. The story is told with three main narratives - Kathy’s, Lester’s and the Colonel’s. Managing the variegated syntax of this last story was really perfect. I think he had help from folks who speak Farsi and he tweaked the sentence rhythms and structures just perfectly. By way of context you can tease out the meaning of many Farsi words and phrases peppered throughout. It really was a beautiful piece of writing even if the subject of that writing wasn’t always beautiful.
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LibraryThing member lauralkeet
At the beginning of House of Sand and Fog, a recovering alcoholic named Kathy is evicted from her California home. The Behranis, an Iranian immigrant family, buy the house at auction the next day. Kathy discovers her eviction was due to a clerical error, and launches a legal battle to regain
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ownership. The Behranis, of course, fight to keep what they now rightfully own. Meanwhile Kathy, recently abandoned by her husband, becomes entangled in a relationship with Lester, a married police officer who was present at her eviction. With each chapter the situation spirals more and more out of control. First, cultural misunderstandings abound: Kathy and Lester are frightened by the Behranis' ties to the Shah's regime, and the Behranis harbor resentment towards privileged, white Americans. Second, every main character makes a mess of their personal relationships through poor communication and allowing their egos to get in the way.

This ominous, tense, and gritty novel reads like a Shakespearean tragedy. While there are many opportunities for the characters to improve their situation, they repeatedly fail to do so. Each character's flaws are glaringly obvious, and none of them are particularly likeable. As the reader, this made me distance myself emotionally from the plot, remaining on the sidelines watching the characters careen towards the inevitable disaster. This book is well-written but I tend to prefer novels where I can be more emotionally committed to the outcome.
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LibraryThing member porch_reader
The first part of the book is told in alternating voices. Colonel Behrani is an Iranian who escaped the country after the Shah was overthrown. A rich and powerful man in Iran, he works two jobs to attempt to maintain his family's lifestyle, make a good match for his daughter, and pay for his son's
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education. Kathy Nicolo is a recovering alcoholic and cocaine addict whose husband has recently left her. Her house is mistakenly repossessed and purchased by Colonel Behrani. As the story unfolds through the eyes of these two character, the tension builds. There is not a lot of action in the book, but Dubus managed to keep me quickly turning pages.

The tone of the book changes a bit in the second part. Kathy's boyfriend, Deputy Sheriff Lester Burdon lends his voice to the story (although his chapters are told in the third person). The characters make a series of bad decisions, leaving readers wondering how Dubus will possibly resolve their conflicts. At times, I felt like I was in the middle of a bad dream, unable to change what was happening and unable to turn away. And then the book ends (and not in the most satisfying way, but perhaps in the only way possible).

This is not an unbeat book. I didn't identify with any of the characters, and I found no hope in the decisions that they made. But even so, I have to appreciate this book. With each wrong turn, I wanted to scream at the characters, but I didn't doubt that they would have made that particular wrong turn. Dubus held my attention from start to finish.
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LibraryThing member pussreboots
Oh wow! I just finished the book (having spent the entire day reading it because I just couldn't put it down) and I'm still reeling from it. It has all the drama and pathos of a Shakesperian tragedy. Pride and hubris are the destroyers of dreams for all the characters involved. Add to it the
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reality of places I know and have lived--Corona is so clearly Pacifica that there is no point in changing the city's name--and the book is one of the most power stories I've read in a long time.
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LibraryThing member lawrence
Pretty much the worst book I've ever read. Not one of the characters deserves any sympathy from the reader.
LibraryThing member Smits
The American dream gone wrong us how I describe this novel. It goes wrong for an Iranian family who had to leave Iran without their wealth and are trying to keep up appearances as Col. Behrani works collecting garbage on side of the hwy and changes into a suit before going home so people won’t
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know what he does Kathy Nicole is a recovering addict who is trying to get her life back together and the only thing of value she has is the house her father left her. But things go terribly wrong for both these people all entered around her house and a clerical error and all hell breaks loose.
Thus was a good read that kept me turning the pages. The only thing that bothered me was the detailed descriptions of people’s bad breath and the deputy sheriff’s crooked moustache .
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LibraryThing member fingerpost
Extraordinarily fascinating and extraordinarily depressing. Through a buerocratic error, two different people have a legitimate claim to the same house. Both characters are deeply flawed, but both sympathetic as well. If either gets the house, the other will be wronged. Enter a thrid character, a
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sherrif's deputy who is willing to do wrong for what he sees as the right ends, and we have a story that shows a very real and believable scenario of horrible events happening to people who don't deserve them, but can't escape them.
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LibraryThing member lit_chick
I read the first 100 pages of House of Sand and Fog and then had to put it down. The plot is built on the stupidity of the female lead, Kathy, who deliberately discards all mail received from county taxation and subsequently is surprised when she loses her home to auction for unpaid taxes. She
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decides she needs a married cop (second protagonist) to help get her house back, so she seduces one. Meanwhile, a Persian colonel (third protagonist), living far beyond his means in an upscale California neighbourhood, has purchased the hosue at auction; him I found equally unlikeable.
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LibraryThing member carmarie
I loved this book. At first it didn't seem like my kinda plot. But I was quickly proven wrong after I didn't go to sleep until I was finished. These lives intertwined in a way that was least imaginable.
LibraryThing member dimestorenovel
Another book that failed to live up to the hype. This is another really sad, depressing book that leaves you empty. I never really connected with the characters. I could see the sadness coming a long way off. Perhaps, because I could feel that sadness coming, I chose not to connect with the
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LibraryThing member whitebalcony
The slow build of of tragic circumstance, as well as the incredibly deep and visceral characters, kept me reading well into the night. This book is so sad and so provoking. Understanding how small differences in perspective and culture can lead to such a tragic outcome is very powerful in this day
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and age.
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LibraryThing member d.homsher
Unbearable. Iranian immigrant purchases a house that has been put up for sale because the owner failed to make all the payments. The conflict between the new homeowner and the disorganized woman who wants, needs, her house back runs forward on meshed gears. Implacable detail. I couldn't finish it.
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The horrible ending was obvious from a long way off.
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LibraryThing member quixotic-creator
Never have I experienced such a mixed strength of emotions when reading a novel. The House of Sand and Fog was nominated for The National Book Award and eventually the novel was turned into a screen play and became a hit. (Although I have yet to see the film because I wanted to read the book first,
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I am now wondering if I will be able to stomach it.) The novel is based on the conflict that arises and escalates when an Iranian immigrant family legally purchases a house at auction while the former owner flips out over her eviction and quick sale of her home. Throw into the mix the volatile cocktail of a Sheriff who is witness to the eviction and who happens to feel an attraction for Nicolo. As this attraction takes on a new dimension, the conflict between the two owners escalates with dire and devastating consequences.

What bothers me strongly about Dubus's novel is the generic and stereotypical portrayal of the characters. He skillfully manipulates the reader by presenting these characters as "good" and "bad" - on the one hand one sympathizes with the Behrani family as they struggle to make something of a life in America and on the other hand, one feels little if any emotion other than hate for Nicolo who is a recovering addict. What I find greatly astonishing is the way Dubus has stripped these characters to a minimum and how he has offered little more than cardboard cut-outs of people one would 'love to hate.' Nicolo comes across as a whiny, self- indulgent and selfish person, Sheriff Burdon as the un-self-recognized bully-behind-the-badge, and Colonel Behrani and family as the keeping-up-appearances but trying to adapt to the American way of life while still fiercely maintaining tradition and customs. What is even more astonishing is that one has to continue reading because one wants to know how it will all end. In short, Dubus's novel leaves me feeling simultaneously disappointed, gypped and yet strangely satisfied - which is a conflict in itself. Perhaps the non-resolution lies in the intense emotions stirred by this work despite the hollowness of it all.
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LibraryThing member slushypipp
I generally prefer novels from the first person perspective, especially ones, like this, that switch perspectives between different characters. I usually enjoy a story told by different narrators. That is, if it is a good story. This certainly had the potential to be a good story, although an
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obvious one. Contrary to other reviews I have seen, I considered this novel not particularly well written, especially the dialogue, where married characters having an affair ask such banal and predictable questions as "Do I complicate things?", and one character contemplates of another character, that her eyes are unlike any he'd ever seen.

The characters are quite one-sided. I agree that Behrani is certainly the more developed and thus more interesting of the two, but the characters' motivations are extremely limited. Despite Les's dull declaration that Kathy "is a complicated woman", it is precisely the lack of depth that makes this book feel strongly like a morality lesson, and a second rate one at that. In fact, in case we *miss* Colonel Behrani's tragic flaws, his pride and his hipocracy, his wife gets to state them explicitly during the very contrived climax of the novel.

I think it's safe to beware of books that have an alcoholic as a main character; it's obvious from Kathy's third section that the climax of this novel will involve an irrational drinking binge. There is no subtlety here: Kathy's "addictive personality", her general dependency, whether on a person or on a substance, causes her breakdown.

The persistent and obvious imagery reminds me of the books one reads in middle school to try and teach students to pick up symbolism, such as "The Great Gatsby" (note that this is not an indictment against "The Great Gatsby") and so forth; images you'd have to be daft to miss. I don't exactly think it's literary genius to have the characters constantly "in a fog", quite literally, and quite literally unable to see too far beyond themselves.

I agree with the reviewer who decided that this was a "made for TV movie". Especially when reading the sections about Kathy and Lester, I felt like I was watching a maudlin movie -- a piece of entertainment, but certainly not a piece of literature.

This book was not a waste of my time; it was a quick read due to its tendency towards melodrama. I was not looking for a happy ending, as some readers seemed to be, or even sympathetic characters. I just wanted to *believe* them, I guess.

This was a selection for a book club I recently joined, and this book pales deeply compared to the last one we read, "The Hours", by Michael Cunningham. Also from the first person, his insight and observation and fluidity in speaking in different voices made me believe that, perhaps, his intimate understanding of his characters was due to the fact that he was really speaking in a universal voice. This book, on the other hand, is choppy, disjointed, and melodramatic.
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LibraryThing member cal8769
Wow, how do you sum up the emotions that this book churns up?
A friend asked me if I liked the book and I couldn't answer her. A good book, in my opinion, is a story that makes you want to read nonstop, you are obsessed with the characters, you know the characters as well as you know your friends
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and when the book is over you wish that you had just one more chapter....... Well this book had all of that, BUT.... How depressing can a story be? My heart broke for every single character in the story. Every person lost everything because of a house!!!!! I actually lost sleep thinking about these people.
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LibraryThing member goneal
An analysis of human conflict
This book has two very different main characters. The book tells each person’s story at different times in the book. The characters are very different from one another other but they end up having one thing in common. Both wind up having legal rights to the same
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house, and both end up fighting for what they believe is rightfully theirs. The house has strong symbolism for both characters, and neither will compromise in any way to resolve the growing problem. The story starts out with Behrani, a colonel from Iran, who has fled with his family to America after the fall Iran's government. After struggling for some time, he finally gets an opportunity to put his family on a comfortable financial status. He buys a bungalow in San Francisco, which he won in a tax auction. He is excited to learn that house could be worth quadruple the amount of what he bought it for. However, he soon learns that the city made a mistake when seizing and auctioning the property. From his point of view, the book shows the difficulties of immigrants who try to find a better life in America. The other main character, Kathy, shows up halfway through the book. Kathy Nicolo owned the house through an inheritance from her father before it was seized by the county through error. Kathy struggles against her history of drug addiction, and is so caught up in her own affairs that she discards numerous letters from the county tax office which turn out to be eviction notices. There is another main character, Lester Burdon, the police officer who represents the county during the eviction. On the surface he is portrayed as a family man, but Burdon is actually a mix of desire and hatred and he soon takes an interest in Kathy. His transformation is the fire that fuels the disastrous line of events that unfold in the novel. The narrative moves freely between the two characters, with each acting as the hero during their narrative and then being portrayed as the bad guy when the other character picks up the narrative. Dubus' interpretation of the uncertain nature of 'being right' is the book's greatest theme. If the book were only Kathy's tale, Behrani would be a evil businessman, while Behrani's version would describe Kathy as a lazy, irresponsible and illogical American. Since the author gives both characters a voice, the result creates conflict in the reader. Who is right? Who should get the house, and at what cost? Overall the book is a good read, and I recommend to anyone who likes a complicated drama. The first half of the book is great it’s a convincing analysis of human conflict. I also learned a lot about real estate and bureaucracy. After the conflict is laid out, however, the story becomes too focused on peoples’ actions and the drama of kidnapping, hostage taking, and gunning that is, in a way, predictable, and is dragged on too long.
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LibraryThing member tls1215
I liked this story very much, and its the ONLY movie I've ever seen based on a book that stayed so close to the original story... it was like I was sitting in the theater turning the pages of the book.
LibraryThing member teacherteacher
I was skeptical of the author and his wife as readers at first, but it works. I haven't seen the movie, but I'm not sure I want to. I wouldn't want my image of this powerful story ruined by Hollywood.
LibraryThing member jayne_charles
I liked this slow burner which focuses on three people caught in what might have been a mundane legal dispute but which spirals shockingly out of control as the story reaches its conclusion. The writing is dense, every little detail keenly observed. Not a fast read, but an enjoyable and
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illuminating one.
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LibraryThing member tgsalter
clashing cultures in California compounded by stupidity or was it simply igtnorance and impulse? at any rate ... a page turner.Iranian Colonel Behrani and his family, Kathy Nicolo and her father's house, Lester Burdon, the cop who forgot to think it all through.
LibraryThing member glwestfall
Man, there wasn't a single main character in this book that was at all likable. I realize that likable characters aren't a requirement, but while I finished it, I intensely disliked all three of them.


National Book Award (Finalist — Fiction — 1999)
Dublin Literary Award (Longlist — 2001)
LA Times Book Prize (Finalist — Fiction — 1999)
Indies Choice Book Award (Honor Book — Adult Fiction — 2001)




0393046974 / 9780393046977


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