Hello, everyone! In December 2013, I was lucky enough to get an opportunity to read author Michelle Cohen Corasanti‘s debut novel, The Almond Tree. It is an amazing read and my review of the book can be foundhere. The book ended up being one of the best books I read last year. We also hosted a giveaway for it which got over yesterday itself and I hope all the lucky winners enjoy the story just as much as I did. In other news, again, I consider myself really lucky to have had the chance to have an interview with the author, thanks to The Readers Cosmos. So without any more ado, let’s get on to the lovely interview post I have for you.
Hi Michelle! Welcome to The Readdicts. It’s a pleasure to have you on our blog and we hope you have a great time answering our questions.
1. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m a Jewish American. In high school, I went to Israel with our rabbi’s daughter knowing next to nothing about the situation there. I returned seven years later knowing more than I ever wanted to know. I studied Middle Eastern studies and graduated from law school. I wanted to help bring about change, but there was nothing that could be done. After a decade of college, I wanted to put the whole conflict behind me. I attempted to bury it and return to who I was before I witnessed the horrible situation in Israel.
I was able to bury the past for over a decade until I read The Kite Runner. My past clawed its way out. What I learned from The Kite Runner is that a writer can reach into readers’ hearts and change them. That’s when I decided to become a writer. I was finally ready to tell the story that had been inside me for two decades.
2. You have been a student of Middle Eastern Studies. How important a role did your education play in writing The Almond Tree?
In Middle Eastern studies, we studied history, politics, economics, Islam, Arabic, Middle Eastern literature and all other topics related to the Middle East. I wrote about what I knew and what I lived, but I was also able to pull from what I studied as well to give a complete picture.
3. I personally haven’t come across any piece of fiction written on the Israeli- Palestinian issue. What made you take it up as the theme of your novel?
I think it’s easier for people to relate to human stories than it is facts. I wanted to try and cast as large a net as possible in order to shine a light as bright as I could on the situation in Israel and try to show that there was a better way.
4. You have predominantly studied Arts. How easy or difficult was it to incorporate so much of Science in The Almond Tree? Has Science always interested you or did you have to develop an interest in it in order to make it such an important part of the novel?
My story is very personal. The seed for the story comes from a glimmer of home I witnessed at Harvard when I saw a Palestinian and an Israeli scientist working together. At the time, I spoke Arabic very well and helped the Palestinian translate his lectures from Arabic to English. His research was similar to what I discuss, but not the same. I don’t know science at all or math. I had to have someone help me with the math equations and, in fact, three of the equations were wrong in the book. I have since corrected them in the current PDF.
5. Tell us about Ahmed Hamid. How did the idea to write his story come up? Is he influenced by someone you know or is he a complete product of your imagination.
I wrote about what I know. Ahmed is a composite of many people I met during all the years I was involved in the conflict. The scientist part was a composite of different Palestinians from inside the green line I met at Hebrew University, Harvard and MIT.
6. As your debut novel, I’m sure The Almond Tree is like your baby and means a lot to you. Additionally, it has also influenced many readers. How much does readers’ response and the fact that everyone is impressed by your work mean to you?
Of course I’m thrilled and humbled.
7. What’s next in store for you? Any ideas for a new book? Also, The Almond Tree has received some amazing reviews, so much so that it has been spoken on par with Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. Does that feel like it’s too much pressure, especially since readers will now have high expectations from whatever you write next?
I’m just finishing my next book. When I wrote The Almond Tree I wanted people to see the situation through Nora’s POV, but I was unable to give her all my flaws. To be a complex character, one must have flaws. She was who I wished I could have been and failed to be. In retrospect, I think I was hiding all her flaws from Ahmed.
Someone asked me to expand on the Nora/Ahmed romance. I began to write it from Nora’s POV and the story just flowed.
The Almond Tree is written in a style similar to Khaled Hosseini’s. He was able to open the east up to westerners. I needed a different writing style to capture Nora’s POV. In The Almond Tree, Ahmed’s relationship with Nora is a small part of his book, for Nora it is her entire book. In my next book, I am conveying what it was like for me to come back to the US after living in Israel for seven years. I thought I would re-acclimate easily, but that didn’t turn out to be the case. Going from Ahmed’s world to Harvard was a huge culture shock. Although it’s a great university, I found the issues that people were dealing with in the US so superficial compared to what I had experienced in Israel. I needed more of an Emily Giffin style to capture that reality. My next book is more of a social commentary on American society.
8. What advice would you give to young aspiring writers?
The Almond Tree took me seven years to write. It could have taken me twenty. I wasn’t going to stop until I achieved what I set out to achieve. Don’t give up. Writing is about rewriting. Be prepared to rewrite many times. Read like a writer as many books as you can. See how your favourite authors moved you. I found writing courses to be very helpful. I took twenty-one on-line writing courses through Writer’s Digest.
9. Who are some of your favourite authors and what are some of your favourite books?
I love all Khaled Hosseini’s books, Mudbound by Hillary Jordan, Open by Andre Agassi, American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld, The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid , Emily Giffin’s books, Sarah’s Key, Those Who Save Us, The Invisible Bridge, The Glass House.
10. What do you like to do when you’re not writing? Give us a glimpse into any normal day of your life.
I hang out with my husband and twins when I’m not writing.
In the winter, we live in Florida. A typical day here is I get up early and exercise. Make breakfast for my twins. They are home schooled so I get them going.
I usually do something connected to The Almond Tree every day. Right now I have to give five talks this coming month so I’m preparing for those. I’m invited to speak in front of very different groups so I have to tailor each lecture differently. I’m writing my next book and I usually have to do a couple of interviews each week. Also, I read a lot.
At night we either go out to eat, I cook or order in. We usually eat dinner as a family and then watch movies at night.
Thank you so much for taking the time out to have a lovely chat with us and we hope you stop by our blog soon. Wish you lots of happiness, success and peace!
Thank you so much for the interview. I wish you all the best.