Publisher: Finger Prints Publishing
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“He looked me directly in the eye. ‘So you live in America?’
‘We do.’ I smiled.
He stopped, opened his backpack, pulled out an empty tear gas grenade and handed it to me.
‘I believe it was a present from your country.’ Majid smiled. ‘Tell your friends thanks. We got their grenade.”
― Michelle Cohen Corasanti, The Almond Tree
The Almond Tree is the story of a boy called Ahmed Hamid, who faces innumerable struggles to accomplish his dream of giving his family a happy life. This book is a powerful narration of the bleak lives of those suffering due to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
The story starts with Ahmed losing his little sister Amal to a landmine when she accidentally steps on it. Stricken with grief, Ahmed slowly loses everything he has until all he is left is a tent for a house and 7 mouths to feed. How he beats all odds to become a Nobel Prize winning professor in Physics is what The Almond Tree is all about. The lone standing almond tree which has witnessed Ahmed’s sufferings and is his treasured source of comfort throughout his struggles is the source of this book’s title.
What struck me as I read this book was how an American Jewish Author has so truthfully and transparently examined the miseries of a Palestinian Muslim family. For a first-time author, Michelle Cohen Corasanti achieves excellence beyond the reader’s expectations, consistently and elegantly capturing the spirits of her characters and the plot, thus easily immersing the readers in the book. The book also gives the reader a deep insight into the happenings of the Israel-Palestine war through an insider’s perspective. The author’s narration style is quite evocative and gleams with knowledge and research on the Israeli occupation. How Ahmed chooses to forget his feelings for his fellowmen, the Israelis and their doings for a better life in America and justifies his self-centered attitude has been handled beautifully. Filled with touching scenes like Amal’s death, Ahmed winning a scholarship at the Hebrew University, Khaled’s death etc, this book can be a tearjerker for the sensitive and the emotional.
A few incidents in the story do make one wonder if the author has deliberately dumped a humungous amount of sorrow on the Hamid family just to invoke the reader’s sympathy. The handicap of Abbas, Ahmed’s younger brother, seems conflicting at different points in the novel. He is said to be a cripple who can’t walk easily but is seen standing upright, driving cars etc. in his later years. This kind of dampens his characterization.
Susan Abulhawa’s essay When novels distort legacies of struggle criticizes the author for narrating just one side of the story; but somehow, I do not agree with this viewpoint.
This book is a brilliant attempt for a debut novel and as many other readers have pointed out, it reminds one of The Kite Runner and Mornings in Jenin. This book is an entryway to understand the ongoing conflict happening in Palestine through various points of view.