Book Review: The Almond Tree
One of the most profound statements in ‘The Almond Tree‘ is an advice given by the protagonist Ahmed’s father or Baba. His father, a pacifist, tells his son the one thing which becomes the anthem of his whole life: Good things make choosing difficult. Bad things leave no choice. And you see Ahmed follow it up till the end, from the time when innumerable humiliations are heaped on his family but his intelligence does not leave nor does his faith that if he follows the path true to his humanity, he can be a better person and lead a better life for himself and his family. This interesting tale of humanity and looking at the ‘enemy’ in his eyes and showing how one can be a bigger person is written by Jewish American Michelle Cohen Corasanti.
Writer: Michelle Cohen Corasanti
Publisher: Fingerprint Publishers
Price: Rs 295
Released: November 2013
You meet the protagonist in a small village in Israel in 1950s where the death of his little sister via the landmines near their house brings in devastations one after another on the family. An unintentional rendezvous with a terrorist brings further grief into the family and Ahmed becoming the breadwinner of the family. Through the gloomy situation, the one thing which keeps him going are his father’s valuable thoughts on peace, being good despite the odds and always looking at other person’s psyche. One more thing helps Ahmed to build a life for himself and his family – his natural aptitude or genius for Maths and Science or physics. A scholarship helps him go to a university in Jerusalem where a new life welcomes him. But he does not fall fail his family, making sure that they are comfortable. As he grows bigger, moves to USA for better prospects and so on, situations make him return to certain questions, his family and obligations.
The author Corasanti has stayed and studied in Israel for quite some time. It makes all the difference as the pacifism and mature tone of Ahmed does not seem idealistic. His belief comes from his knowledge that it is human beings who create the troubles, its effects and the only way to overcoming it and showing your worth as a human being is by living the ideals. His realisation comes from his father who shows how idealism can affect people through his behaviour. While Ahmed stays by his beliefs and rises to great height without forgetting his friends and family, you also witness to his brother’s anger against the Israelis for the inhumanity inflicted on the Palestinians.
The topic of Israeli-Palestinian conflict might be of interest. The human emotions and conflict can be found anywhere and so would the characters. Corasanti attempts to display the reason for their behaviour. Ahmed’s father becomes his conscience keeper who pushes him to come out of the negative shell. One early memory is of the baby-faced Israeli soldier who harmed the family in more than one way. Ahmed’s path crosses path with the soldier in an unusual way but Ahmed’s mature manner of handling the situation gains him more than a friend.
On the other hand, his brother Abbas is on the other end of the thinking. His hatred blows up with their father’s arrest and mistreatment. He stays by his beliefs and distances himself from Ahmed. Ahmed’s professor Menachem Sharon is similar to Abbas in terms of prejudice but in due time, this prejudice converts into an undying support and friendship. The title of the book comes from the almond tree around which Ahmed’s family begins their new life and it serves as a witness to the ups and downs. Corasanti’s narration is slow to begin with but catches on, once Ahmed gets to attend university. She has tried maintaining a simple flow of incidents and language.
But a few glitches disturb you. Firstly, Ahmed’s younger siblings are not part of their father’s message to follow the righteous path towards pacifism. Why is that the pacifist message to overcome hurdles is passed on to the genius and not other sons who probably needed bigger help to stay away from terrorist groups waiting for misguided youths to join them? Another point to stand out like sore thumb is of Ahmed’s attempt to find Abbas. But all of sudden, Abbas appears to him on a news channel as a part of a terrorist outfit and thus you see Ahmed going all the way to save his little brother. His attempts to convince Abbas of all his good fortune and the good he is doing comes out as shoving his good luck down the throat of a brother who probably lost everything at every turn and tried his level best to make sense of things. Ahmed’s second wife Yasmin, a Palestinian younger to him, is a complete opposite to him and throughout, you see him comparing her to Nora, his first wife. It brings out a certain bigoted attitude towards the Palestinians who are shown to be totally down and out.
Yes, a few flaws do mar the reading of The Almond Tree. As a work of fiction, the reading value of this book still looks good. Corasanti wants to put the spotlight on how peace and a different kind of brotherhood can exist. The book’s simplicity and optimism allows you to understand the protagonist’s pains and struggle and applaud at his success. You even overlook the obvious flaws.