Michelle Cohen Corasanti debuted as an author with The Almond Tree, a take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from different angles. Born and brought up in a Jewish home, she is familiar with the socio-political and socio-economic scenarios of Israel as well as Palestine. The novel The Almond Tree is a living account of her observations, experiences, memories and moments.
SliceofRealLife.com got in touch Michelle to share with you some glimpses into her journey as a debut author. Here are the excerpts from the interview:
What motivated you to pen The Almond Tree about a people that often hit headlines?
I had the misfortune of witnessing the situation first hand for seven years, and I wanted to try to help bring about change. Awareness leads to understanding, and understanding leads to change. I wanted my twins to know that I saw injustice, and tried to shine a light on it so that the entire world could see.
How is your debut novel The Almond Tree different from Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner?
I write about a brilliant Palestinian who grows up in an impoverished village under Israeli martial law. My writing teacher, Les Edgerton, described The Almond Tree as “A tale of innocence moving through a vicious world, compassion learned against an environment of daily horrors, and wisdom forged through a boy’s journey through a life we would never wish upon our own children.”
The protagonist in The Kite Runner appears to be a boy of average intelligence who grows up wealthy and privileged in a fairly peaceful environment other than the occasional bullying and, of course, the rape.
Rasheeda Bhagat from the Hindu Business Line told me that The Almond Tree reminded her more of A Thousand Splendid Suns. It is similar in many ways.
How close is the story of the novel to the natives of Israel and their day-to-day life?
When I lived there, the Palestinians inside of Israel no longer lived under Israeli martial law, but I could see what Israeli military rule was like in the occupied territories. My story starts in 1955 when the majority of Palestinians inside Israel lived under martial law, which continued until 1966. So the situation for the Palestinians inside Israel is no longer like my book describes. Palestinians and Israelis have thought that my protagonist is from the occupied West Bank because it resembles their reality. Israel treats different Palestinians under its control differently. I didn’t write the story of the Palestinian people. I wrote about one Palestinian boy who grows up in Israel.
Would you like to share something about the protagonist Ichmad Hamid with us?
My protagonist is a composite of different Palestinian post-docs from Israel I met at Harvard and MIT. I felt there was a large number of Palestinians from Israel who were post-docs in science outside of Israel. In 1976, the Koenig Report which contained recommendations for Israeli policy got leaked out. One recommendation was to encourage Palestinian intellectuals from inside Israel into the sciences as a way to get them to leave the country. Israel makes military service a prerequisite for such jobs in science that require a higher education. Palestinians inside of Israel don’t serve in the military. With their PhDs, it is easier for Palestinians inside Israel to find jobs abroad. When I lived in Israel, it was against the law for Palestinians inside Israel to have contact with anyone connected to the Palestinian liberation organization. One never knew who Israel would consider linked to an organization, and I think it was easier to stick together so I knew quite a few Palestinian post-docs from Israel.
What role does your real life experience play in portrayal of the protagonist?
Everything. He is based on composites of people I met over the years.
Does the book explore the socio-political or socio-economic scenario of Israel and Palestine?
On his last visit to Jerusalem, President Obama asked an auditorium full of Jewish Israelis to try and put themselves in Palestinian shoes. I tried to put myself in a Palestinian’s shoes to show what life is like for him, and by doing so I was able to explore those scenarios. I have found that the human mind is wired to respond more to personal narratives than facts.
How is your take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict close to real life?
The Palestinians are one people, but there are many Palestinian experiences. This is what life could be like for a brilliant Palestinian born in 1948 in a rural village in Israel. I can’t think of anything tragic that happened in The Almond Tree that wasn’t fictionalized reality.
What challenges or difficulties did you face while writing the novel, The Almond Tree?
The most difficult thing for me was to relive and remember the worst part of my life.
Does the novel convey any message to the readers?
We should celebrate differences and focus on our commonalities to advance humanity. May the battles that we fight be for the advancement of humanity.
How would you like to describe The Almond Tree in a line?
A Palestinian boy from a rural village in Israel who, against all odds, achieves what other men have only dreamed, but at a high price.
SliceofRealLife.com thanks Michelle Cohen Corasanti for the opportunity to interview her and wishes her all the best.
Read the interview on SliceofRealLife.com