"Mama always said Amal was mischievous. It was a joke we shared as a family- that my sister, just a few years old and shaky on her pudgy legs, had more energy for life than me and my younger brother Abbas combined. So when I went to check on her and she wasn't in her crib, I felt a fear in my heart that gripped me and would not let go."
The Almond Tree by Michelle Cohen Corasanti is a beautifully written story told from the point of view of Ichmad Hamid. Told in four parts (and spanning decades) it begins with a seven-year old Ichmad making us painfully aware of real horrors and what loss really means. From the first page the reader is fully aware it's not a story for the light-hearted.
Living as a Palestinian in an Jewish Israeli controlled village, we start off in the 1950's, with Ichmad describing the horrofic circumstances and achingly real terror he feels living with soldiers that could destroy him and everything he loves at any given moment.
Through the decades he grows and struggles with his emotions and assumptions of others. He has spent his life being threatened, hurt and watching all he loves being taken by Israeli Jews that he can't trust them and deeply fears them. As he learns more of the world with time, he begins to accept that not all Israelis are as he perceived them. However, his family is firmly agains the idea and Ichmad is so bound by obligation and duty to his family, so driven by it, that they motivate his every action. Fear confines him, but passion for his work and love drive him forward. He must come to terms and fully understand his hatred for a race with which the only contact he ever had was controlling, aggressive and cruel. The people who continuously robbed him of everything he had.
Ichmad has a unique gift. He is a mathematical genius and devotes his life to his cause, to his desire to learn, but he struggles to educate his family, to support them, especially his brother Abbas, whose hatred for Israelis Ichmad can never manage to overcome. His world is at war, Israel is in ruins and people are forced to live in wreckage and poverty. Living in a time when Palestinians hate the Jewish and Jewish Israelis hate the Palestinian Arabs, his life is constantly in turmoil. His younger self never feels safe, never has enough to eat and can only watch as his family suffers.
A beautiful, heart-wrenching story. An educational and painfully real look into the life of a Palestinian boy living under an Israeli regime in the 50's, still trying to break free decades later. He inspires us all. Rising out of the ashes to find his passion and save his family, constantly hitting walls and having to rebuild from scratch, always returning to his symbol of hope- the constant presence of an almond tree by his childhood home. Haunting and not to be missed.
Disclaimer: I received this book from the author through a giveaway. This is not a sponsored review. All opinions are 100% my own.