Wednesday, 5 March 2014

The Almond Tree: A Book Review - Promoting Peace at the expense of Palestinians?

Recently, I read the book "The Almond Tree", by Michelle Cohen Corasanti. Before going in to more details about the book and reviewing it, I was not sure whether to write it from a neutral book reviewer point of view, or from a Palestinian book reviewer point of view. With this kind of writing, it gets very tricky. But then I thought, whatever perspective I use, the review is going to be the same. This book motivates you to read it till the end, but unfortunately, has a number of faults and story lines that just do not make any sense, and make the book look like a fairy tale rather than a novel depicting a long time conflict (and actually a very serious one.)

In brief, the book follows the life of Ahmad (or as known in the book as Ichmad) who comes from a poor Palestinian family. Ichmad is a genius, and he manages to get a scholarship at the Hebrew University, and continues his success in life surrounded by family and friends, both Palestinians and Israelis. On the other hand, his brother Abbas is against any peaceful communication with the Israelis, and instead he chooses the armed struggle as a way to fight. Events in the book start in 1955, and end around 2007.

First of all, let's look at the naming of characters in the book. I come from a Palestinian family, that lived in a small village next to Hebron, and then moved in refuge to Jericho, and then to Jordan. I also have a lot of friends who come from different parts of Palestine, and I have never heard the name Ahmed spelled as "Ichmad." It raised questions about the origin of this name in the novel. On the other hand, Ichamd's professor is Menachem Sharon, a name Palestinians know very well. It consists of the names of two of the most hated Israeli figures among Palestinians: Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon. So using that combination was not a very great idea in my opinion especially that the author is trying to promote tolerance, and not necessarily enforce it.  

Let's now move to the character structure, and stay with the Menachem Sharon example. We see this professor at the beginning of the book as a strong opponent to Arabs and Palestinians, and he hates them so much, that he was not willing to accept Ichmad as a student of his despite the fact the he is a genius. Suddenly, towards the end of the book, this Sharon guy is transformed into someone who attends Mahmoud Darwish's poetry nights! And we don’t see in the middle how this happens. So it just does not make any sense.

There is Nora, Ichamd's first wife, who is Jewish, but a strong supporter of the Palestinians, which I have no problem with. But I believe there was no need for the author to depict her life as similar to the life of American activist the late Rachel Corrie. It just felt like the author tried to add all events in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict even though sometimes it is not necessary.

Ichmad goes to the US later in his life to continue his studies and work on a project with Sharon. And of course they are both representing Israel. On one hand, I find no sense in Ichmad, as a Palestinian who suffered a lot accepting that, and Israel itself promoting a Palestinian to become advanced in science worldwide!

At one point in the novel, Ichmad tells his brother, Abbas, who was by then in Gaza and part of a "terrorist organization", that he should move with him to the US, where he can be safer. I don’t think discussing the idea of Palestinians moving outside Palestine for the sake of safety should be a solution for their situation. And I felt sad because this was suggested by a Palestinian who suffered in the past because of Israel, and for Palestinians, or at least most of them, the idea of keeping the land is more important than peace with the Israelis.

Last point to discuss is the fact the author used the help of 7 researchers; none of them is a Palestinian Muslim. If she got the help of a Palestinian Muslim, because the main character is a Palestinian Muslim, much of the problems with this book would have been solved.

It is unfair for people who know little about the Israeli Palestinian conflict to read this book, and consider it an intro into getting to know more about the history of this conflict, despite the fact that it is just fiction. I salute the author's efforts, but would say that she should be careful when writing about such an important part in history.

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