Imagine this: you are a young boy living in a war-torn area with your family, and the opposition controls your village. You don’t like it, but still live in peace with your family, happy in their love and care, happy with little things that are more memorable like the quirks of your siblings than the fear of landmines from the enemy. But one dreaded evening, something happens, something that breaks your heart, but are still forced to live on. How would you feel? Angry, torn, sad, vengeful, panicked, hurt that some people do not want to do anything about the injustice that has been dealt to you? I did imagine myself in such a position, because frankly, that was the only way that I could feel and understand the protagonist of this novel. I had to step into his shoes, and that was one of the hardest things to do given his situation.
The Almond Tree, a novel by Michelle Cohen Corasanti, took me to, and through the life of Ahmad Hamid, a Palestinian boy. I’ll honestly admit the way I was introduced to his life wasn’t the way I expected this journey through words to begin, and it shook me. I was saddened by that beginning, but it made me want to read on, find out how it shook Ahmad’s world and how he survived it. I feel it is a part of this book too, how he survived through his ordeals. What happened that evening made him view the world with eyes reddened by sadness and anger too. It made him a rebel, much against the wishes of his father. It made him angry when they were relocated, and angry enough to take a step that he later regretted. It was only later that he understood his father, and the bond between father and son became closer than it ever was. Through Ahmad and the characters around him, I was shown various aspects of humanity. Calmness and respect through Ahmad’s father, understanding, kindness, love, care, a single-minded approach with confidence through Ahmad, fear and worry through his mother, and rebelliousness (even if it was to the extreme) through Abbas, his brother. I saw belief too, through Ahmad’s father and his teacher, and it spilt into Ahmad’s character when he, with their support, goes to an Israeli university to pursue studies and make their life better. What touched me with his move was that their family was not in a position to afford him leaving at that point, but he looks to the future and believes he can change it for the better.
The book, and it’s theme, are by no means easy to read, but her narration is so powerful that it held me from the first word to the last. I didn’t want to put it down, though I had to. Emotions were done justice. I would read it again, but I feel a long gap between is warranted.
Now, thinking without being drawn in by emotion, I didn’t feel every character had many facets. I could understand the character, but it was quite monotone. Like Ahmad’s mother only looking at surviving the day rather than looking at the future, and threatening Ahmad to cut him off from the family if he pursued studies than working to earn money. Or Abbas thinking every Israeli as an enemy. The situation is a hostile one and I feel it had opportunity to change and bring out more in every character than it actually has. If a character starts as good, they stay good. If they start out bad, they stay bad. The situation doesn’t change anyone to any notable extent.
Like every book, this one has positives and negatives. But I felt this book had more positives than negatives, and the narration has the power to keep the reader noticing mostly the positives. Was this book perfect? No. Of course not. No book usually is perfect. But it was nearly there. From my side, I’m quite delighted to have read it, but it’s not a delightful read by any stretch of the imagination. It is a sequence of sadness, to be very frank. It has in its words, the capacity to touch the reader’s heart. A very promising debut.
In A Gist:
Positives: Moving narration, aspects of life through each character, simple English, memorable pearls of wisdom.
Negatives: One-sided characters, not a lot of depth.
About the author:
Michelle Corasanti has a BA from Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and an MA from Harvard, both in Middle Eastern Studies. The Almond Tree is her first novel.
Title: The Almond Tree
Author: Michelle Cohen Corasanti
Genre: War/Historical Fiction
Publisher: Fingerprint Publishing
Price: INR. 295
(20th January, 2014)