|photo courtesy:garnet publishing|
It is not often that a novel enlightens and entertains at the same time. Michelle Cohen Corasanti’s The Almond Tree does just that.
Set against the backdrop of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the story unfolds through the eyes of seven year old brilliant child, Ahmed Hamid, as he helplessly watches his toddler sister stray into an area filled with landmines and die in front of him.
The narrator, Ahmed displays an amazing ability for academics. However he has to put his dreams on hold when circumstances force him to take over the responsibilities of his family. Eventually, Ahmed gets the chance to make a clean start and pursue his academic dream. But this decision comes at a price, with severe repercussions on his family.
What works for The Almond Tree:
- Gripping storyline tracing Ahmed’s journey from a country Arab to a renowned professor in the US
- Great scenes between characters such as clash of ideals between Ahmed and his brother Abbas
- The confrontation between Ahmed and his Jewish mentor, depicting the two sides of the conflict
To the writer’s credit, the Almond Tree is a truly fascinating story that highlights the unrest in Israel occupied Palestinian territories. I remember watching TV reports about the incidents in Gaza but this book offers a whole new perspective about the situation. Despite the atrocities, the book has a very positive feel to it, depicting how choices change people’s lives for the better or worse.
However on another level, it is also the life story of Ahmed as he transforms from a war-struck teenager to an intellectual youth and subsequently an accomplished individual and yet at each stage struggles to strike a balance between his past experiences and personal choices.
For these reasons alone, certain shortcomings of the novel, such as smoother transition of events or lack of development of minor characters can be overlooked. Abbas is a strong character and could have been developed better but perhaps was overtaken by the sheer magnitude of the story. The narrative is smooth and despite the bumpy rides when the story takes abrupt turns, it sweeps one along till the end.
Overall, a great read that throws light on the conflicts in the Middle East at the same time as the personal life journey of an individual who makes tough choices and has the courage to live with it.