Themes in a House of sand and fog Essay
Themes in a House of sand and fog
Kathy finds out how tenuous is the dream of home ownership. Through no fault of her own, she is evicted from her legally owned home by a bureaucratic clerical error (the tax office was seeking payment for the house on Biscove Street, not Bisgrove Street). Although Kathy cannot afford a lawyer, she is assisted by a Legal Aid lawyer, paid for by the state. Although Kathy’s lawyer has filed suit against the county whose tax office made the error, Kathy has nowhere to go after she is evicted and, were it not for Lester’s help, would become homeless. Behrani sees an ad in the legal section of a newspaper for the auction of the Corona house; he gets the house for $45,000, paying in full, first with a $10,000 certified check drawn on the Bank of America and then with cash. Although he moves his family into the house immediately, he plans to sell it and quadruple his investment.
The American Dream and the Rule of LawKathy, who cleans houses for a living, has a competent Legal Aid lawyer (Behrani pays his lawyer $300). The police department has a Division of Internal Affairs (to monitor the police themselves); knowing this, it does not take long for Behrani to suspect that the tax office had not sent an armed policeman to interrogate him−surely this wouldn’t happen in the United States, where there is no SAVAK. After Lester’s visit as “Officer Gonzalez,” Behrani reasons that, since this is the United States, he shouldn’t expect the military to arrive on his doorstep in the dead of night, especially since Behrani hadn’t broken any rules. He had the $10,000 Bank of America check with him when he arrived at the auction; he then paid off the balance of the auctioned amount in full. He confirms his reasoning with a lawyer, who calls the Police Department for him, and then files a complaint at the Hall of Justice building.
The California police department’s Office of Internal Affairs contrasts with SAVAK, the Iranian Shah’s secret police. Behrani−who, it is intimated, maintained an extravagant lifestyle off the backs of his fellow Iranians−distances himself from the armed thugs who torture and kill others at someone’s whim (at least, he protests by socially snubbing General Pourat’s nephew). However, Behrani was sufficiently high on the imperial ladder (as Pourat had reminded him, he and SAVAK were on the same side) to have his name placed on the ayatollahs’ “death list.”The rule of law is also contrasted with the law of the mob: Behrani frequently remembers his old friend and commanding officer, General Pourat, hanging from his feet above the tarmac, blood still dripping from his sleeves, his murdered family around him. Since the Shah’s regime was the puppet government of the United States, it is expected that Behrani became a U.S. citizen after having been granted asylum by the U.S. government.
And, as the reader discovers, the rule of the mob is not necessarily different in effect than even trained police officers wanting to do good (but who are as error−prone as the rest of humankind). It is not just SAVAK that contrasts with the California legal system: Behrani frequently remembers the murder of his cousin Jasmeen (by her father’s gun, held down by her elder brother, for having had anaffair with a U.S. oil executive, a scandal which became public knowledge). Although Behrani hated his uncle for murdering Jasmeen, no one punished the uncle: at that time, it was his right to do so in Iran, to preserve the honor of the family name. Behrani strikes his wife Nadereh on several occasions, though he does not though take pleasure in it (and tells his son Esmail that doing so is wrong and to not behave like him).
There is also the California domestic violence law described by Lester: a woman defending herself with her fists against a man trying to stab her with a knife would also be charged. Although Behrani thinks at one point that he has killed Kathy, he does so only because Lester loves her. And, ironically, he, at least at some level, kills his wife because he really loves her, as he had loved his son Esmail. The author contrasts the California legal system with past imperialism of the U.S. federal government in the form of the rule of the Shaw of Iran; Jasmeen’s affair with a U.S. oil executive; Behrani’s gun, a gift from a U.S. defense contractor; Lester’s wife Carol’s college passion to travel the world with a camera and notebook to document American imperialism wherever she found it; and Pourat’s nephew, who said he learned the best techniques−dismembering children in front of their parents−in the U.S.
The American Dream and JusticeJustice does not prevail in this novel, because no amount of good intentions suffice. Lester muddles through Part II of the book, blinded initially by his love for Kathy and later, at least in part, from lack of sleep and anger at the chasm between Kathy’s and Behrani’s relative capitol assets. He is blinded ultimately though, because he is a military man: for example, he fears the Colonel isn’t taking him seriously; he didn’t think the Colonel’s pride would allow this to slide; he doesn’t move out of Behrani’s line of vision when he’s parallel parking because doing so would be simple courtesy.
Some might deem it poetic justice where this Iranian military man was terrorized, although he had done nothing wrong: his fate was not totally dissimilar to those attracting SAVAK’s attention, and he apparently lived ostentatiously at the expense of others (in the general way that totalitarian countries function, with the few dictating allmaterial rewards to the many). Behrani also at one time wonders whether his fate is not the inevitable consequence of his life near the top of the imperial heap. Some would deem the events that unfold horrifyingly in Part II of the book to be “mischance”: Behrani bought the house because it was up for auction, not to hurt Kathy. He had the cash and knew it was a good deal. Kathy overdosed on sleeping pills, because they were available in the medicine cabinet.
The officers shooting Esmail did not know the gun he was holding was not loaded. Some would attribute the lack of justice to bureaucratic ineptitude: Behrani would have never purchased the house if San Mateo County had not erroneously auctioned it off for back−taxes, and Kathy would not have been evicted from what was rightly hers. Both have a legal and legitimate claim to the Corona street house. In the sense that the function of the rule of law is to arbitrate in conflicts (which this most certainly is), Lester’s suggestion would have been brilliant had he thought of it sooner (his idea was that Behrani sell the house back to San Mateo County, which admitted its error, for the full amount he paid, and sign the check over to Kathy, who would then give him clear deed to the house). It was a legal compromise that could have worked, but things went so wrong.