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Sunday, February 09, 2014


Book review: The Almond Tree

Two years ago I wrote a review of a novel called "Mornings in Jenin" by Palestinian Susan Abulhawa. This past week I had the opportunity to read another novel, "The Almond Tree," by Jewish-American Michelle Cohen Corasanti. Remarkably, although the plots of the two novels are completely different, and of course the authors come from very different backgrounds, the review I wrote for "Mornings in Jenin" (reproduced below) is almost word-for-word applicable to "The Almond Tree." The time period covered by the two novels is slightly different ("The Almond Tree" starts in 1955 and continues past the Israeli assault on Gaza in early 2009), and, as noted, the basic framework of the plot is very different (this one is about the life of a Palestinian mathematical genius). But the way it makes you understand in the marrow of your bones the nature of the Palestinian experience and Israeli oppression is just as powerful. As I wrote in that review two years ago, "No matter how much history you know, no matter how many facts you know, this book will deepen your understanding of that history." That a Jewish-American, whose family didn't experience that oppression first hand, can convey that feeling just as well as a Palestinian who did, is impressive. Two thumbs way up for "The Almond Tree."

Here's the review I wrote two years ago:

Book Review: Mornings in Jenin

I've just finished reading an unbelievably powerful novel entitled "Mornings in Jenin" by Susan Abulhawa. You can read all the history books and articles that you want, and completely understand the history and plight of the Palestinian people. You can be in complete intellectual support of such things as the "right of return." But nothing will make you understand that history in your bones, make you feel it in your gut, like reading this fictional, but all too real, account of one Palestinian family's history, as it spans the pages of time from 1941 through 2002.

All of the key events in modern history - the Nakba of 1948, the 1967 war, the 1973 Israeli assault on Lebanon and the massacre at Sabra and Shatila, and so on through the massacre of Jenin in 2002, are here. All of them (perhaps improbably, but this is after all a novel) impacting on the lives of this one family. And really, not so improbably, because just like every Iraqi now has a family member or a close friend who was either killed or in some way affected by the U.S. invasion of Iraq, so too is it likely that every Palestinian has a family member or a close friend who was affected by not just one of the key events in Palestinian history, but several of them.

The reader feels deeply, personally, the pain which is inflicted on the characters in the book; one feels deeply, personally, the different possible responses - rage and revenge on the one hand, impotence and drawing inward on the other. No matter how much history you know, no matter how many facts you know, this book will deepen your understanding of that history. And on top of all that, the book is written beautifully, with a lyrical style that makes reading every page a delight.

To sum up: read this book.

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