The House of Youssef by Yumna Kassab

‘What is a home?  Is it a house?  Is it where you are born?  Is it where you will be buried?’

A collection of short stories, divided into four different sections, set in Western Sydney.  The first section is a collection of vignettes, which capture small (and often unremarkable) moments in people’s lives.  The second section is a much longer and linked set of stories about the gradual disintegration of a family and is told from several different perspectives.  The third and fourth sections belong to two older first-generation migrants: a man and then a woman reflecting on the decisions they had made and their families.

‘Always it seems to me that I live between two worlds: the country where I was a child and this one here where my children were born.’

The people in these stories are ordinary people: first- or second-generation Lebanese migrants to Australia.  The themes explored include nostalgia, differences in custom, social isolation, and relationships.

I enjoyed this book: the vignettes (‘Motherland’) prepared me for the second section (‘The House of Youssef’) while the third and fourth sections (‘Homing’ and ‘Darkness, Speak’) enabled me to look at the consequence of emigration through different eyes. 

Emigration is never easy.  Those of us, like me, some generations removed from the experience of moving between countries take a lot for granted.  Those who move to countries with differences in culture and language are always straddling two worlds.

In her thoughtful, minimalist prose, Ms Kassab captures many of the challenges first and second-generation migrants face.  While this style will not appeal to every reader, I liked the opportunity it gave me to reflect on choice and consequence.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith