Reviewed by: Jamal Kanj, January 23, 2013
I must confess reading a novel is not high on my list. At times, I made exceptions for novels with social or historical elements. The Almond Tree was one of those exceptions.
The Almond Tree is a moving and powerful novel based on historical events the writer successfully weaves harmoniously in more than 300 pages. It is the type of story that will keep the reader wondering where reality ends and when fiction starts.
The book focuses on the inimitable personal experiences of Palestinians who remained in what became the state of Israel- ostensibly granted Israeli citizens- occupation and refugee camps in Gaza. The story deals with the human side of the trials of Palestinians since the creation of the state of Israel leading to contemporary occupation, illegal settlements and war. The novel is a good reading for anyone wishing to grasp the inherent contradictions and complexity of the Palestine question.
How some were able to overcome life tribulations despite all odds, and how others were swept in the vortex of the perpetual conflict. The Almond Tree courageously tackles individual and institutional Israeli racism towards native Palestinians. It addresses boldly the inner struggle among Palestinians and Jewish communities for mutual acceptance.
The characters in the book range from the highly educated Palestinian who struggled hard to break through the walls of Israeli racism, worked with Israelis and end up marrying a Jewish American woman. A brother on the other hand who rejected his brother’s perceived submission to the enemy and was driven into exile moving from one ideological extreme on the left to become a leading figure in a radical Palestinian organization on the right.
A Jewish American woman fighting her “progressive” parents’ inhibited racism to marry a Palestinian and young Palestinian man struggles to overcome his mother’s trepidation before marrying a Jewish girl.
The writer, who seems to be Jewish American, deals honestly with the desperate environment that drives young Palestinians to become suicide bombers. One chapter in the book discusses to a great detail the case for and against military confrontation with Israel. While the deliberations do not attempt to persuade the reader towards a certain opinion, it prepares the reader however to better appreciate–not accept– the two conflicting views.
Not many writers have made the effort to examine the Palestinian Israeli conflict outside the polemic historical discourse. Historical interpretation aside, The Almond Tree is a journey to put the reader in touch with the human faces behind the perceived “irrational and convoluted” Middle East conflict.
This novel was interesting reading even for someone who rarely appreciates fiction.Jamal Kanj (www.jamalkanj.com) is the author of Children of Catastrophe, Journey from a Palestinian Refugee Camp to America. Jamal Kanj writes weekly newspaper column and publishes articles on several online websites discussing contemporary political issues in the Arab world, US and Israel.