In war, there are no winners. There is only bloodshed.
The Almond Tree traces the rollercoaster-like life of AhmedHamid, eldest of 7, an Arab-Palestinian growing up in Isreali-occupied territory. Ahmed has a gift for science and numbers, graduating from school with a scholarship. But circumstances change one night, triggering a series of events that slowly destroy his family.
I’ll be frank with you: this is not a happy story. The author,Michelle Cohen Corasanti, lulls you into a false sense ofsecurity, and just as you begin to think that things are starting to get better for Ahmed, you get a literary slap in the face. Isuppose there is no other way to tell a story set in the backdrop of the Israel-Palestine conflict. The staccato tone of this book keeps you grounded in reality (yes, I am aware this is a work of fiction but it imitates life pretty well). Ahmed watches as the violence and horrors of the conflict gradually corrupts his mother and siblings, and with only his father on his side, he forges ahead, from the slaughterhouse to the hallowed classrooms of MIT (Massachusetts, not Manipal).
It is not easy to write about a conflict so steeped in complications that it has been deemed in academic circles as “irresolvable”. Corasanti is careful, for the most part, not to delve too deeply into the political antecedents, deciding instead to focus on the human element. She shows how the same set of events can have profoundly different impacts on different people. On one end of the spectrum is Ahmed: who takes the Gandhian route and decides to let go of his fear and hatred and instead work within the boundaries of his circumstances toward a promising future. His brother Abbasis his polar opposite. He decides to fight fire with fire, eventually joining the Hamas. One point to note, however, is that Abbas seems to be demonized by the author. Her choice is interesting because it reflects a very old moral debate. Is Ahmed the better man to have ignored the conflict? Or isAbbas better man to have fought for the freedom of his people? Are the darkest places in hell truly reserved for those who maintain their neutrality in times of moral crisis?
For a debut novel, The Almond Tree is pretty decent. The story flow is a bit rusty, which is something that the author will hopefully mend over time. Her ensemble of characters (aside from Ahmed himself) fell a little short of becoming flesh and blood, seeming at times too monochromatic. Despite this, I could not bring myself to put the book down. For those tentatively opening up Flipkart and Amazon in a new tab, I reiterate that this is not a happy story. It is not meant to satisfy or fulfil. It’s a story of loss and desperation, and sweet escape for only a blessed few.