But this was never the case with Michelle Cohen Corasanti’s The Almond Tree. Before I could finish the initial chapters, I was overwhelmed by the urge to retell this story to my part of the world, to as many as those who would understand it. The honesty of the narration, the understanding of the misery was so inspiring that it converted me from an inquiring reader to a generous storyteller.
The Almond Tree is the story of Ahmed Hamid, a Palestinian boy, who chooses to swim against the tide. Despite sufferings tediously pouring down upon his meager ambition, his aim in fact is the very thing that shelters him and aids him in seeing beyond the hatred. The depiction of his poverty is so utterly unabashed that it leaves the readers with an unpleasant aftertaste of guilt.
Rising from makeshift tents, Ahmed goes through various experiences that form the full spectrum of human emotions. The readers will keep assuming Ahmed’s every tribulation to be the last straw, but he reemerges each time. While the heavens continue to fall down all around him, resilient little Ahmed keeps walking on, at times barefoot but mostly in his homemade rubber-tyre sandals.
He does not give up, not when work at the slaughterhouse wears him down, or when prison guards poke their Uzis in his ribs or when the librarian frisks him for weapons. He especially does not stop when he wins a scholarship, and makes it to prestigious academic institution to eventually return home.
Confronted, externally by those who surround him and are victims of persecution and internally by the pride of his own individual achievements, his conflict begins when the heart proposes a powerful hatred for a country but the mind designs an alternative verdict based on truth … the ensuing contest is deafening.
The Almond Tree poses the million dollar question as to whether one should renounce the collective pledge or the treasured individuality. It remains a matter of choice between believing in and carrying forth the assemblage of past emotional baggage or living, and also thriving under constant contradictions that comes only from individualistic learning.
I have a feeling that Ahmed Hamid is not one character but a range of persons the author has encountered over a period of time. While nothing strikes you as unrealistic, the craft of storytelling affixes an almost unbelievable ambition to the tumultuous life of this Palestinian immigrant.
The book is an expansively emotional roller coaster ride. And in some instances, a literal transportation to a place where the blurred line between faith and patriotism is crossed over; atrocity and desperation in tow.
Recent debate on social media centers around a Jewish American woman writing this book in the voice of a Palestinian Muslim male, when in fact that simply underscores the most extraordinary thing about the book: The expression of the experience of pain.
Michelle effectively puts her talent to work by giving readers a blatant insight into the Israel-Palestine conflict. And as an attribute to this honesty, she keeps the readers immersed, up until the very last page. Her transparent assessment of history elaborates how it all just boils down to: one story, two sides.
Putting the concept of a homeland through a new perspective, The Almond Tree is no ordinary work of fiction. While her characters struggle with the clichés brought up by history year after year, she manages to establish an alternate rationale on some very basic human instincts.
Michelle Cohen Corasanti sums up the Palestinian-Israeli conflict:
People hate out of fear and ignorance.
Perhaps, the roots of hatred in South Asia stem from the same.