The Almond Tree, a first novel by Michelle Cohen Corasanti, starts with young Palestinian Ichmad Hamid watching his baby sister Amal blown apart by an Israeli mine planted near his family’s farm. Despair builds on despair as his father Abbas is jailed as a suspected terrorist supporter, another sister is killed, and his brother, Abbas is crippled in a vicious attack. When Ichmad, a brilliant mathematician, wins a scholarship to a university where Arab students are in the minority, he encounters a Jewish professor, a man filled with hate because of his own family’s persecution by the Nazis. But, both men learn to respect each other as individuals, and in their growing collaboration, despair slowly turns to hope.
The Almond Tree traces Ichmad’s life from the squalor of Palestinian refugee camps to the ivory halls of American universities, as he and his new friend make advances in science, and, at the same time, develop as individuals.
This is an amazing first novel; finely crafted, and full of meaning. It’s easy to casually dismiss it. Some would doubt that a Jewish writer could possibly enter into the mind of a Palestinian and make the reader see the fear, hate, love, despair, and hope that shapes his mind. But, Corasanti does just that. More importantly, she has capably described both sides in this long-standing conflict from a human perspective, a perspective that is all too often missing from other accounts of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
I strongly recommend this book to anyone who wants to have a better understanding of the human face of war.