I’ve had the unfortunate luck of never really getting a truly mind blowing book when I get a review request. When Michelle Cohen Corasanti emailed me asking me if I would like to review her book, I was intrigued by the story and immediately agreed.
Ichmad Hamid was a gifted young Palestinian boy living in a Palestinian village controlled by the Israeli Army in the 1950s. The smallest of things are enough to get in trouble with the Army. Living in a constant fear of landmines, and the atrocities committed the army, Ichmid and his family are not the most secure of families. Ichmid, is very gifted, extremely intelligent and sharp, he excels at his studies, but is forced to drop school and go to work when his father gets thrown into the prison on the suspicion of aiding terrorists. Ichmid and his younger brother Abbas, 12 and 11 year olds, have no option but to go to work and earn a living. They make very little, but they can’t do without it either. They have no home, and no permit to build one, and are forced to live in a tent, in all sorts of weather and conditions. The work they did, managed to keep them from starving, but also handed out more misfortunes for the family. Torn by responsibility and guilt, his only support was his father, who refused to see evil in anybody. His father’s constant support through letters kept Ichmid’s faith. There came an opportunity for him to get a scholarship at the Hebrew University, and it was his father who backed him and gave him the courage to stand up for himself. His mother and his brother Abbas, felt that it was a betrayal on his part to go to an Israeli University and work with the Jews. They were the people who were responsible for the condition of their lives, after all.
Ichmid persevered, balancing out his life, keeping his family as his first responsibility sometimes having to take difficult decisions. While Ichmid managed to make a life for himself, despite all the misfortunes and cruelty that he and his family were dealt with, the book makes you reflect on those who get sucked into the situation, with no way out, like his brother Abbas. Ichmid follows his father’s advice of not letting hatred consume him, while Abbas, went the other way. Abbas, of course, had been dealt with a more difficult hand though, so it is understandable to see his frustration and his unhappiness with his brother’s decision to work and be friends with their oppressors. So easy for two brothers to be brought up in similar circumstances but end up in completely different areas in life.
It is a heart-breaking read. One that will leave you sad, and upset, that there is so much of injustice in the world. So many people are fighting for a life, a simple life, a life without fear, the things we take for granted. While this book was specifically about the Israel-Palestine conflict, it could resonate in any of the conflict ridden parts of the world. It also opened my eyes to what is happening in Palestine. The living conditions, the constant fear that they live with, with no real future for their children.. things we can’t even imagine.
The story starts with a bang, and the author manages to maintain that tempo. Reading about the Hamid family’s life and misfortunes makes you realize how many lives are caught in political conflicts which they have nothing to do with. All that most people want is a happy, comfortable and secure life, which sadly remains a dream in so many conflict hit parts of the world.
While not an easy read, it was a total page turner. I just couldn’t put it down. The only reason I took a couple of days to read it was because I had a migraine, but even that couldn’t stop me from picking up the book and reading. Despite the mindless tragedies, and the sadness, it is a book that ends with hope. A hope that one day we will see a conflict free world.
The subject was gripping, as I already mentioned enough times already, I also loved the characters. Each of them, easy to identify with. Even when you might not agree with their methods, you understand where they are coming from. You feel Ichmid’s guilt and sense of responsibility, as well as the feeling of being torn between what he needs to do and what his family thinks. Abbas’ anger and frustration, Baba’s gentle strength which holds Ichmid strong. Nora, I loved Nora! Let me just stop here and say that it is a book worth the read.
I give it a 4.5/5. I would love to read more from the author.
About the Author
Michelle Cohen Corasanti is a Jewish American woman with a BA from Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a MA from Harvard University, both in Middle Eastern Studies. She is also a lawyer trained in international and human rights law. She has lived in France, Spain, Egypt, and England, and spent seven years living in Israel. She currently lives in New York with her family. The Almond Tree is her first book.
Thank you, Michelle Cohen Corasanti for the review copy.