The House of Youssef by Yumna Kassab
Shortlisted for the 2020 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards UTS Glenda Adas Award for New Writing
Longlisted for the Stella Prize 2020
Shortlisted for the 2020 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards: Fiction
The House of Youssef is a collection of short stories set in Western Sydney. The stories explore the lives of Lebanese migrants who have settled in the area, circling around themes of isolation, family and community, and nostalgia for the home country. In particular, House of Youssef is about relationships, and the customs which complicate them: between parents and children, the dark secrets of marriage, the breakable bonds between friends. The stories are told with extreme minimalism — some are only two pages long — which heightens their emotional intensity.
The collection is framed by two soliloquies. The first expresses the longing of an old man for the homeland he will never return to. The second is the monologue of a woman, who could be his wife, addressed to her daughter, about life and its disappointments. The two central sequences are composed of vignettes which focus on moments of domestic crisis, and which combine, in the title sequence, to chart the demise of a single family. Kassab portrays the lives of ordinary people — simple, unglamorous, down-to-earth. Her understated style isolates small details and the anxieties that lurk within them. The tiny shifts in a normal day are an entire world to the people at the centre of her stories.