Review: The Almond Tree by Michelle Cohen Corasanti

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date read: July 01 to 05, 2013
Read count: 1

The Hamids are a Palestinian family living in the West Bank. Once they had a good life, but then the Israeli government took over and forced them from their home and business. They, along with thousands of families in similar situation, had to relocate to the West Bank and live in refugee-camp-like settlements. This, though, was only the beginning of Israeli oppression. The book goes on to describe daily hardship Palestinians face under Israeli rule, such as strict curfews and regulations, airstrikes, harsh punishments for petty crimes, direct and indirect discrimination, systematic destruction of Palestinian cultures and religious practices, forced labor camp sentences, imprisonment, false treason convictions, and the list goes on.

Ichmad Hamid was only a young boy when his father was taken away to prison. He has to grow up quickly on his own. Fortunately he is intelligent, excels in school, and has a love for math and science. He grows up to become a prominent member of his town/settlement while facing all sorts of Israeli opposition along the way.

The story is mostly told through Ichmad’s experiences and puts the Palestinian struggles in focus. Many of the atrocities described in this book do happen every day in the West Bank. The author didn’t make them up just to tell a story. Readers who aren’t aware or familiar with Israel’s treatment of Palestinians find themselves shocked. Although it may seems like the Hamids and their neighbors are an unfortunate group of people to have so many horrible things happen to them repeatedly, this is what every day life is like for Palestinians.

While I liked how the story weaved fact into fiction, I didn’t like how simple and two-dimensional the characters were. Although readers are able to empathize with the Hamids’ and other families in the settlement, empathy without understanding is ultimately empty. The book’s expositions explain the context in which some of these unfortunate situations happen, but they don’t explain enough.

On the other hand, it would be somewhat confusing for someone without some prior knowledge of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict to follow this book. So the expositions are necessary, though I don’t think unfamiliar readers would get a true picture of how complex and weighed down the situations in Palestine are. So perhaps plan to do some extra reading before starting this book?

Also, while this book is well written, there are a few moments when the writing takes on a propaganda-like style when describing unfortunate events happening consecutively to the Hamid household. This is unfortunate because we rarely see the Palestinian side of the conflict depicted in books, and a book about Palestine to be seen as propaganda would only strengthen certain prevailing prejudices that a lot of people already have. (I’m trying really hard to stay objective in this review. Can ya tell?)

I see many reviewers lamenting that they regret this book is fiction and not fact. I don’t have this problem. Facts are hard to swallow. Statistics are cold. Death tolls do not tell you about the people who died, why they died, or what killed them. That’s why a story such as this one would leave a bigger impression than news reports. (It’s usually just a blurb because, let’s face it, media outlets don’t cover Palestinian stories for more than a few seconds.)

— — — — —

I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway.

Original review can be found here.

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