Monday, January 7, 2013
Book Review of The Almond Tree by Michelle Cohen Corasanti
Author: Michelle Cohen Corasanti
Publisher: Garnet Publishing
Type of book: Israel vs Palestine, Muslim and Jewish relationship, 1950s-1980s, 2009, America, protection, work, racism, intelligence
Year it was published: 2012
Gifted with a mind that continues to impress the elders in his village, Ichmad Hamid struggles with the knowledge that he can do nothing to save his Palestinian friends and family. Ruled by the Israeli military government, the entire village operates in fear of losing homes, jobs, and belongings. But more importantly, they fear losing each other. On Ichmad's twelfth birthday, that fear becomes a reality. With his father imprisoned, his family's home and possessions confiscated, and his siblings quickly succumbing to the dangers of war, Ichmad begins the endless struggle to use his intellect to save his poor and dying family and reclaim a love for others that was lost when the bombs first hit."The Almond Tree" capitalizes on the reader's desire to be picked up and dropped off in another part of the world. It tackles issues that many Americans only hear about on World News or read about at The Huffington Post, such as the Israeli Palestinian conflict, the scholasticide that is being imposed upon the Palestinians in Gaza and the current Gaza blockade. But even more, it offers hope.
Ichmad Hamid is the main character and happens to be a Muslim. He was born in 1948, when Israel first began and due to a choice he unwittingly made, he and his family suffered a lot at the hands of Israelis. He is intelligent, lucky, ambitious and devoted. He follows his father Baba's teachings and is very good with numbers. He tries his best to forgive the Israelis and becomes modern, especially in liberating his second wife Yasmin from the life that was thrust upon her. I loved Baba character and his teachings and lessons towards his sons. Ichmad also has a younger brother named Abbas (anyone notice how similar name is to Baba? And that Abba means father in Hebrew?) who is Ichmad's polar opposite. There's also the professor and his wife Justice, Hannah, and some other minor characters. The book doesn't give a great deal of focus to characters but is plot and event driven.
Equality for all
It's written in first person narrative from Ichmad's point of view and I enjoyed the flow of it. Its also interesting that the author herself, a Jewish woman decided to write from a Muslim man's point of view. The only thing that I didn't like was the last part of the book, 2009. While the book itself was an emotional roller coaster, and last few chapters were the same, I thought the ending was tied too neatly and I wondered why Ichmad couldn't be bothered to reconcile with his brother before 2009? Its not an easy read for anyone, and despite the apparent hope that a Jew and a Palestinian would want to work together, I think conquering Everest is far more easier than working with someone who has killed your family members or people you knew. While reading it, I keep wanting to point out that indeed the Gaza has been tried and it failed, and so forth.
Michelle Cohen Corasanti has a BA from Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a MA from Harvard University, both in Middle Eastern Studies. She also holds a law degree. A Jewish American, she has lived in France, Spain, Egypt and England, and spent seven years living in Israel. She currently lives in New York with her family. The Almond Tree is her first novel.
This is probably the most painful book I've read in my entire life. It's painful for different reasons. First of all its not horribly written that makes one want to do the Oedipus thing, but its painful in realization of what is going on in Israel as well as a realization that not everyone learned the same lessons that one should have. I entered three giveaways for this book, desperate to win it. I remember that when I entered it, I started to wonder why I was having trouble winning it, and something inside of me whispered that perhaps its G-d trying to protect me from pain. When I won it, I was ecstatic but then frightened. Already I sensed that I entered into something I cannot escape from. Just at the idea of reviewing this book causes me to cry, and its not something I can discuss with neither of my parents. Why? My parents are Jewish as well as fiercely devoted to Israel, which is enough said. I wanted to ask them questions or whatnot, but dared not. Apparently society is stronger than individual will is the lesson I have learned. What the author desires is equality for all inhabitants, be they Jewish or Muslim. Its also curious that she never addresses or discusses 9/11 (The last part takes place in 2009, yet 9/11 is never alluded to.) I have heard parts that people aren't being treated equally there, so it wasn't THAT shocking, but in a way it still was. I'm a history major and ironically learned a lot of post biblical Jewish history which was not pleasant to learn, thus I thought that perhaps lessons can be learned, but they weren't if the author is correct. I do have a theory as to why Palestinian atrocities are hidden from the world: for one thing its a fear of lack of support towards Israelis, and perhaps another are fears that all sorts of people would start harassing Jewish people. People hold higher standards for Jews than for anyone else. I recall in Holocaust class we watched a movie about brothers that helped Jews escape into the forest, and there was a scene where a German came into the ranks of Jews. One wouldn't expect Jews to become violent towards that man but that's what they did. I do wish I could talk more about book itself rather than reveal my soul, but at the moment I fear I cannot.
Quick notes: I won this book on goodreads.com thus this review will appear in its entirety on goodreads as well as the blog
5 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)