The name of the protagonist in The Almond Tree is Ahmad. In the Palestinian regional vernacular of the Triangle, located in what became Israel in 1948, which is where the novel’s protagonist is from, the first letter in Ahmad is pronounced with the Arabic vowel kasra, the “i” sound. The A in Ahmad thus becomes the letter I in English. As the second letter in Ahmad, ح, doesn’t exist in English, when we try and capture Ahmad with a kasra in English, we can either spell it Ihmad or Ichmad. If we write it as Ihmad, one cannot tell if the h stands for the Arabic letter ه or the letter ح. So Michelle used “ch” to capture the ح, which is a harder sound than the letter h that represents ه, but not as hard as the “kh” which represents in English the sound for the Arabic letter خ.
A few Arabs had the misperception that “ch” is Hebrew. It is not. Those are Latin letters in which English is written. Hebrew is written in different characters. Hebrew, which is also a Semitic language, has the exact sounding letter as the ح. Words such as challah and chutzpah begin with that letter. “Ch” is how that sound is captured in English. It’s been captured that way long before Zionism was even an ideology. The c is used to indicate to the English speaker to make the h harder than a normal h, but not as hard as the “kh.” “Kh” in English stands for the letter خ, which is needed to spell the Arabic word that means “to put out or suffocate like a fire” which, one reviewer wrongly claimed Ichmad meant. An equivalent of the Arabic letter خ doesn’t exist in Hebrew. Hebrew letters in Arabic.
Ahmad Abu Hussein is a Palestinian from Baqa Elgharbiyah village in the Triangle, where he lives with his family. He has a BA in Middle Eastern studies and an English teaching certificate from Hunter College. He is both a high school teacher and college lecturer as well as an award-winning author of the books: ELSA and To Study English. He is currently writing his third book, a novel, about a Palestinian from Israel.