When I received The Almond Tree for a review, I was already reading an interesting book on war. However, just to kill time while going home in cab, I picked up the book to go through the first few pages. After that, I could not put it down (earning the book another title: Unputdownable, thanks to my colleague!)
The Almond Tree is the story of a Palestinian family and thousands of families in general who are bound to live like refugees in their own homeland. It is a brave attempt by Michelle Cohen Corasanti, an American Jew, to perceive past, present and future from the eyes of Arabs in her debut novel. War stories make for interesting reads, provided they are backed with facts and written with objective mindset. Corasanti’s work is accurate when it comes to emotions and dramatics, but the same can’t be said about the facts.
Gifted with a brilliant mind that has made a deep impression on the elders of his Palestinian village, Ahmed Hamid, the protagonist, is tormented by his inability to save his friends and family. Living under occupation, the inhabitants of his village harbour a constant fear of losing their homes, jobs, belongings — and each other. On Ahmed’s 12th birthday, that fear becomes a reality. With his father now imprisoned, his family’s home and possessions confiscated and his siblings quickly succumbing to hatred in the face of conflict, Ahmed embarks on a journey. From his overbearing mother to the death of his siblings, from the pressures of an interfaith relationship to the fallout of discrimination, he confronts each challenge with strength and determination, whether it is political, religious or otherwise.
Despite being a wonderful read, the book has its shortcomings. The story of The Almond Tree is woven with emotions, more than bound by practical knowledge. It is almost impossible to measure the amount of hate between people torn apart by violence and indignity. The pain of leaving one’s motherland is huge, but the pain of living like a refugee in one’s own country is tremendous. It is here that Corasanti falters. She definitely wants peace between Jews and Arabs but fails to understand that peace cannot be won with wars.
However, overall the message of the novel is beautiful. Corasanti has a way of writing about pain, she knows the art of making her reader understand the agony of her characters. While there is a lot of enmity and despair, there are also people in the book who let go of their hatred to understand the message of love. If we do not talk about facts and practical solutions, but only human emotions, this book is a clear winner.