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Book Review: The Almond Tree by Michelle Cohen Corasanti

29 Oct

My second First Reads book is completed! I was really luck to have a lot of free time to read over the past few days so this is going up quickly. I’m working on one other post that my friend recommended I write, so look for a post on research coming soon. But for now, I leave you with this, a review of Cohen Corsanti’s first novel.

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The Almond Tree by Michelle Cohen Corasanti

Cohen Corasanti’s first book is based strongly on her experiences living in Israel during high school and university. If the adage that everyone has a book in them, this was hers. Though I received a free copy of this book through the Goodreads First Reads program, that has had no affect on my review of the book.

The Almond Tree follows the character of Ichmad Hamid throughout his life. The book starts with his family living on the orange farm in Palestine where his family has owned for decades. Quickly, we see him pushed off the land by Israeli soldiers and into a one-room house for his family. But even that can’t last and the home is soon destroyed and his father sent to jail. Ichmad and younger brother Abass go work in construction and must abandon their education to the chagrin of their former teacher. Teacher Mohammad teaches Ichmad at night to neuter his talent for math and physics and convinces him to enter a math competition in Jerusalem where he wins a scholarship to the Hebrew University. His mother is unwilling to let him go but his father insists and Ichmad goes to live amongst the enemies of his people, the Jews.

This story is one of loss and perseverance. Ichmad must learn to forgive those who have destroyed his family and work along with the Jews he has been raised to despise. I’ll stop my plot summary here, but know that almost nothing goes right for Ichmad throught the book. It’s almost safe to predict that anything that seems to be going right will fail. From this respect, the book is very lifelike.

I greatly enjoyed the pace at which this book went. The plot went hurtling forward and I finished it much quicker than I thought I would. For that reason, I’ll say this book was a great fictional showing of the history of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. It was educational and entertaining.

Cohen Corasanti is obviously preaching peace and understanding through education. With Ichmad’s schooling, he learns to interact with and make friends with Jews. He sees understanding and acceptance on both sides while studying at school. His nephew has the chance to study at MIT, but cannot get out of Gaza to seize the opportunity. The nephew loses hope with no chance of education and no way of ever leaving Gaza because his father (Ichmad’s brother) is a member of Hamas.

I’m very inclined to agree with these opinions. I feel with education comes the ability to understand without agreement and the ability to find alternative solutions. When someone does not have a proper education, they gather their information from any source they can find and this has the potential to be the opinions of someone with a strong opinion. Not having been taught how to form opinions and seek sources, someone without education could latch on to these ideas. Cohen Corasanti has characters that exist on both sides of this spectrum.

Without sounding political, I’ll say that The Almond Tree goes into the roots of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and how both sides have manipulated and been unfair to the others. Because the main character is Palestinian, the characters opinions are mainly anti-Israeli and focus on the suffering of the Palestinians.

This book was compared to The Kite Runner and I understand the connection but disagree with the comparison. While Hosseini’s book is also set in the Middle East and chronicles a character who moves to America and looks for redemption from what he’s left behind, I was a much bigger fan of Hosseini’s book. That’s not to say that The Almond Tree is at all a bad book (I’m giving it four out of five), but that Hosseini’s is, in my opinion, much better written. He skips lulls in the action and gives great scenes. Cohen Corasanti is so concentrated on giving the history that she is forced to shorten scenes that are very central to the plot. Her narrator didn’t give much emotion in his story, which makes it harder to sympathize with Ichmad.

I’m very glad I read this book because it was able to humanize the Israeli/Palestinian conflict for me. As a student, I learned about the history of the conflict on a national level. We studied the Camp David Accords and the wars for the Sinai Peninsula. We never talked about Palestinians jailed for over a decade for something they didn’t do or the hoops someone would have to jump through to visit family in Gaza. Cohen Corasanti’s book helped me see this problem through the eyes of a citizen caught in the conflict and I’m very glad I read it.

Writer’s Takeaways: As I mentioned, the lack of emotion in Ichmad made him harder to relate to and I think the story suffered from that. I would have liked to see fewer scenes and instead more emotional description and reaction from the characters which would have helped me sympathize with them more. The author’s ability to keep her plot interesting and moving forward is more than commendable. She’s written quite the page-turner which I think all writers hope to produce.

Four out of five stars.

Until next time, write on.