Intolerance is a human being’s biggest weakness and finding peace, his greatest strength. This journey from intolerance to peace is the search for freedom. In her debut novel, ‘The Almond Tree’, Michelle Cohen Corasanti excavates a history that continues to grip the socio-political reality of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle even today.
Birth of ‘The Almond Tree’
Michelle is a Jewish-American author who lived in Israel for seven years, during which time she came face-to-face with the sufferings of Palestinians in Israel. After returning to the US, Michelle seemed occupied with thoughts of what she’d left behind in Israel. “I thought, as an American, I would re-acclimate easily into US life, but that wasn’t the case. Having witnessed what I had, it was hard to talk about guys, what to wear and what parties to attend,” says the author, who could not for long keep these stories buried within herself.
The almond tree: The story-keeper
This is a tale of Ahmed and Abbas, two Palestinian brothers who are on their path to discover hope amid violence, displacement and poverty. In the early chapters, we are confronted with the difficult circumstances of a Palestinian family living under constant fear. Their little daughter has ventured out crawling after a ‘big red butterfly’. Her innocent chase proves fatal once she crosses the restricted area and the mines blow off. Ahmed and Abbas are left with the scattered remains of their sister’s body for burial. The almond tree that overlooks the village is the brothers’ favourite hangout. The tree stands like a witness to the happenings in the Arab world. Be it the 1956 Suez Canal Crisis, the 1967 Six-Day War, condition of refugees, Arab nationalism or the Palestinian cause; the almond tree sees every chapter unfolding before it. Sadly, it fails to avert or prevent these atrocities. When Ahmed’s father is imprisoned and reduced to a jobless poor villager, the almond tree is only a mute spectator, as helpless as the victims. Can silence ever be an answer to violence and Michelle explains, “For me, this conflict is not about one’s skin colour, nationality, or religion. It’s about being human. I am the ‘almond tree’. I wrote about the burden that comes with awareness that I carry with me every day. I am a witness and I wrote this novel because silence should never be an answer to violence. I put myself in the shoes of the many Palestinians I grew up with and loved during the years I lived in Israel. I have never forgotten their voices; their stories are a part of my story”.
‘Good’ versus ‘bad’
At the centre of this process of chronicling narratives of unheard voices is the relationship shared between the brothers- Ahmed and Abbas. The author creates a binary opposition between the two. Ahmed idolises Albert Einstein and is more of a pacifist when it comes to taking a position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Abbas is a rebel and perceives Israel as an oppressor trying to wipe out Palestinians from their own land. For Abbas, Ahmed is no more than a collaborator who has betrayed every Palestinian for a better life in America. Ahmed, on the contrary, fails to find meaning in Abbas’ attempts of waging a war against Israelis to reclaim Palestine. The story progresses in a way that we eventually see a celebration of Ahmed’s character that wins a Nobel Prize and promises his parents a secure life; while Abbas is condemned to struggle to make ends meet within a war-torn nation. Is the novel then punishing Abbas for being a rebel and not a ‘Good Palestinian’? “Abbas is not a bad person. He is a freedom fighter as opposed to Ahmed whose genius opened doors for him. Ahmed chooses another path, partly out of a moral indebtedness to his father, and partly because he naturally possessed something that could act as a bridge between him and the world beyond his Palestinian village,” avers Michelle, who feels that the ultimate aim of the novel is to propagate peace and nothing more.
Split and separate?
Is the ‘two-state solution’ a probable means to restore peace? “In order for there to be peace, there must be awareness of the truth first, because awareness leads to understanding and understanding leads to change. There must be justice for there to be lasting peace. Resolution of the conflict can take the form of the two-state solution or the South African model of a one state solution, with one person, one vote or variants on either model,” suggests the author.
‘The Almond Tree’ is a novel that begins inside a tunnel filled with darkness of violence and bloodshed. Slowly, that tunnel is destroyed and replaced by a bridge with the promise that peace and hope shall prevail. The crux of the novel lies in these words of Ahmed’s father: “One cannot live on anger”.
About the author
A Jewish American, Michelle Cohen Corasanti has lived in France, Spain, Egypt and England, and spent seven years living in Jerusalem. She currently lives in New York with her family. The Almond Tree is her first novel.
Read the original review on The Times Of India: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/books/The-Almond-Tree-In-search-of-peace/articleshow/30335464.cms