I have heard people talk about some books being life changers. For someone whose lifelong hobby has been to read books, I truly cannot say that I have read many such. That has had a profound impact on my life. And for someone in his early thirties, to claim that a book has perhaps changed his life, is a pretty big deal.
The Almond Tree, the debut novel by Michelle Cohen Corasanti can proudly lay claim to this. It’s a book that details the incredibly tragic life-story of one proud Palestinian Arab, Ahmed Hamid that has shaken my very core and questioned my faith in humanity.
If Kite Runner broke your heart, then this book is going to a do dervish dance on the broken pieces and make you bleed again.
The Almond Tree is a story of perseverance and unfathomable courage and pain. Ahmed Hamid, a is a gifted and very intelligent 12-year-old boy. Everyone in the village admires him and is impressed by him. Living on occupied land, his family lives with the constant fear of losing their homes, jobs and belongings. On his twelfth birthday, this fear becomes a harsh reality. Ahmed’s father gets imprisoned and all their possessions and their home gets confiscated. What will Ahmed do to save his family? He embarks on an inspiring journey using his intellect to rescue his family.
It’s a lurid tale that gives us the intensely personal life-struggle of Ahmed Hamid whose life-long perseverance to get justice to his oppressed Arab countrymen in Palestine is a truly inspiring tale. One that rises above the clutter of political opinions of the hoi-polloi and cuts through the hype and hoopla generated by the media-engines that sensationalize the struggle that has claimed millions of life in that strife-ridden belt of Palestine and Israel. It presents the shockingly human and brutally sobering truth from a very personal angle through the eyes of this one fictional character, Ahmed Hamid – an exceptionally talented young boy in a remote village within Israel who suffers the inhuman tortures of a military occupation, loses his father, his house and his younger siblings to the horrors of war and genocide and yet shines through to achieve his potential of greatness through the help of his bright mind and some kind souls. One of the very few to escape from this hell of occupation, Ahmed goes onto study at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and slowly but surely manages to save his poor family – scholarship grants, RA-ship with an embittered Jewish professor who flaunts and open hatred for Arabs within Israel but slowly succumbs to Ahmed’s genius and ideas – that turns into a lifelong true friendship that transcends this differences.
Ahmed goes through unfathomable pain to achieve the impossible. His losses are just too many to list out here and every time this happened, I would cringe at the unfairness of life of this young man – who follows his father’s advice in the most dire situations, “Good things make choosing difficult. Bad things leave no choice.” It’s a situation that is most prevalent in his life and he makes no bones about choosing the difficult path to achieve his goals. The perseverance is admirable; of how he mucks out through all the shit that life has thrown at him in spades and still digs out the gold – not just in himself but reclaiming a love for the others perhaps lost during a difficult childhood – shaped by loss and violence. It’s a searing story of survival and it will rip your soul apart.
There is a line in this book that best describes his character-depth and goodness of his heart. “I learned during childhood that steady drops can pierce rocks. Life isn’t about what happens to you but how you choose to react to it.”
His indomitable spirit and undying perseverance and his eternal hopes for a justice and hope in humanity is symbolized by the almond tree in his garden – a silent strong spectator to the brutalities and injustice of war for ages but which still blossoms year after year. As should all of us. Despite the horrors of life, reclaiming that love for others – what Ahmed, or the author claims to be courage (“is not the absence of fear but the lack of selfishness. To be selflessly serving others!”) is what would finally redeem all of us.
Here’s to courage. Here’s to Michelle Cohen Corasanti for her brilliant poignant story-telling that wipes away the mask from those news-headlines and statistics about the war in the Gaza-strip. Here’s for writing a novel that will for generations be considered a landmark in the history of the world for giving us the human story behind this war.
Read the full review on Vault of Books website: http://vaultofbooks.com/aplus/review-almond-tree