This is the maiden novel of a Jewish New Yorker, Michelle Cohen Corasanti, titled: ‘The Almond Tree’. It is an epic novel, a drama of the proportions of The Kite Runner, but set in Palestine. A beauty. A story that grabs you from the first page and makes your heart go out to the Palestinians without pointing a finger at anyone, without transmitting hatred. In a free-wheeling chat with Jayashankar Menon, Corasanti opens up and answers a volley of questions.
JM The Almond Tree is your debut novel, but it is creating right noise all over, do you think that your novel will bring some change in the outlook of people towards Israel-Palestine conflict?
MCC: It already has. You can see it in the reviews of The Almond Tree on goodreads and amazon. A story has the power to bring about change. Look at Uncle Tom’s Cabin that President Lincoln allegedly stated brought about the civil war that ended slavery. The Almond Tree shines a light on the human side of the conflict. People relate more to stories such as five were killed. Awareness leads to understanding and understanding leads to change.
JM: What prompted you to pick this issue and write on it?
MCC: I didn’t choose the issue, the issue chose me. I went to Israel completely unaware when I was in high school. I had the misfortune of witnessing, over a seven year period, the horrible situation. My conscious would not allow me to be a bystander to human suffering.
JM: Tell Indian readers something about your novel?
MCC: Through my novel, I try to put people in Palestinian shoes so that they can try and see what it’s like to be Palestinian. I wrote in the voice of a Palestinian for two reasons, One is, as a Jewish American, people consider this a statement against interest and as such people believe it weighs more than the testimony of the victim. It’s like the competent confession of a perpetrator in a rape is a conviction whereas the testimony of the victim is not. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, was written by a white woman in the voice of a black slave. I lived there for seven years, I have my undergraduate degree from Hebrew University and graduate degree from Harvard, both in Middle Eastern studies. I’m also a lawyer trained in human and international rights. And I’m a Jewish American so I knew my voice would be hard to dismiss.
Secondly, although I wrote in a Palestinian’s voice, the story is told through my eyes. I can’t think of anything in my story that isn’t fictionalized reality. I want the reader to be a witness to the things I saw and learned about so the reader can see what it’s like to witness such a situation. I hope in that way to create awareness.
JM: In your novel you have driven a point that all these conflicts are politically driven, since the time you have started evaluating this issue or doing research on this, have you seen a positive perception change both at societal and political level?
MCC: The conflict is about land and power, not religion. It’s about colonialism. I have seen the situation on the ground worsen. According to Israeli statistics, there are slightly more Palestinians living under Israel, than Jewish Israelis. Yet the Israelis live in a democracy with rights and the Palestinians are not entitled to the same rights. It seems that the majority of Israelis have become more right-wing and the military rule under which the Palestinians live is more brutal. Perceptions in the US, however, are changing. There is more awareness, among both Jewish and non-Jewish Americans.
JM: What are your future plans? Are you planning to write any more fiction addressing other issues?
MCC: I’m currently finishing my next book. I wrote the Nora-Ahmed story from Nora’s POV. Whereas that story was but a section in The Almond Tree, in my new book, it is the whole book. That may have something to do with what love means to a woman and what it means to a man. Although Nora and Ahmed have similar political views, the way she sees their story and the way Ahmed saw it are so radically different. I find that reflects the conflict, the same situation, two radically different interpretations. Perception is stronger than reality. Also it’s a social commentary about the most pressing issues facing Americans. The Almond Tree was about those issues faced by Palestinians. I wrote The Almond Tree in more of a Khaled Hosseini style because that style captured the reality as I saw it between the Palestinians and Israelis. In the new book, I was trying to capture what it was like for me to come from a world like the one described in The Almond Tree and then go to college at Harvard. Nora is who I wished I could have been, but I use her to capture American reality through the eyes of someone who lived in Jerusalem. Also I wanted to show what she saw when she was in Israel. The only way I could do this was to use a Twilight/Fifty Shades type of style and to write in present tense. We would request you, that through our blog please convey a message to the readers.
I hope we can all learn to celebrate differences and work together to advance humanity. Learn that we were put on this earth to lift each other up. May the battles that we fight be for the advancement of humanity, thank you for the interview.