July 02, 2013
The Almond Tree by Michelle Cohen Corasanti
This book covers some fascinating and horrifying subject matter. And it expresses many themes that are well thought out and poignant. But the writing is only so-so and I didn't appreciate the book near as much as I wanted to.
Ichmad Hamid is a young boy when his father is thrown into prison and he must quit school to work to support his mother and siblings. He is gifted in math and sciences though, and a local teacher volunteers to tutor him so that he can maybe one day achieve great things. But with his heritage being against him and war between Israel and Palestine making tensions high, it seems an impossible dream. Even within his family there is much dispute over how Ichmad should run his life.
Ichmad doesn't really have a lot of personality. Sure he struggles a lot and has a number of atrocities heaped upon his family and him, but it was hard to care about him in a sense because he didn't really have depth. There were flashes of personality once in awhile, but not enough to make him feel real, even if what was happening to him was realistic. His brother Abbas, was actually a little more fleshed out in character I think, and his father was quite wonderful. But they were not the main characters in this story so we didn't get to see that much development in them. His sisters and mother were barely mentioned at all except for his mother being a source of consternation against his life choices.
The plot and the themes of this book were very sad and very real. And there was a lot of violence and description in this book, starting from nearly the first page. And this actually was at odds with the writing level of the book. The writing level seemed that it was aimed at middle schoolers rather than adults, but the subject matter was too heavy for that age level I think. It might just be a lack of polish, but it almost seemed as if the writing was purposely made simplistic. Add in the numerous math problems found throughout the book and it seemed as if it were designed to teach children, because adding the math otherwise was simply extra detail that didn't add anything to the story or even move it along. When there wasn't a bunch of math and science explanations, the pace was all over the place. It would just from day to day or year to year without much of a break in between or no set timeline. Despite that though, the story worked in that way and it was nice to see how Ichmad grew and how his thoughts changed.
If you're willing to slog through the math and somewhat simplified writing this is a decent book on the Palestine/Israel conflict even if it is fiction. Though it weighs heavily towards the Palestine side of things, it does offer some unbiased views of the conflict and the fact that working together towards peace would be the best route for everyone to take, regardless of their background.
The Almond Tree