Humanity Greater than Ethnic Rivalry: Michelle Cohen Corasanti’s The Almond Tree
Dr Shamenaz, Associate Professor & Head, Deptt of Applied Sciences & Humanities, AIET, Allahabad
The Almond Tree is a novel by Michelle Cohen Corasanti which is quite similar to Hosseini’s The Kite Runner in terms of ethnic struggle and friendship. As Huffington Post views:‘The Almond Tree is an epic novel, a drama of the proportions of The Kite Runner but set in Palestine.’ The novelist is greatly inspired by Hosseini’s novel and she states that:
It was 2007; I began reading The Kite Runner. I didn’t have a
care in the world until Amir, the protagonist, said that the past
couldn’t be buried, that it finds the means to claw its way out.
And like Amir, my past found a way to call me. And there I was,
despite all my efforts, face-to-face with my worst nightmares and
my greatest failures. But The Kite Runner gave me a way to shine
a light on what I witnessed. It made me realize I could step into
the shoes of the many Palestinians’ I had known and loved over
the years and tell their narrative, the one that has always haunted
me, and the one that is little known in the US. (6)
Michelle Cohen Corasanti, is a Jewish American writer who has depicted the sufferings of Palestinians and the atrocities of the Jews in her novel, The Almond Tree.This is what she herself had seen, heard and experienced as Michelle speaks about her own experience:
The Almond Tree is based on what I witnessed with my
own eyes, what I heard, and what I learned. (2)
The reality is that I’ve written a novel about a Palestinian
family and what happens to them over the course of a number
of decades that is informed by my personal experiences as well
as years of study of Middle Eastern studies. (2)
The protagonist of the novel is Ichmad Hamid and the story revolves around him and his family. Author has depicted his life, his struggle against a tyrannical rule, his patience, courage, determination, killing instinct and the ability to win against all odds and adverse situation in a very realistic way. His story is a source of inspiration for all those people who are let down by the problems and hardships of life.
The novel opens with a mischievous child playful act leading to her painful death which affects the whole family. In this way the beginning of the novel has a very painful and pathetic scene. Ichmad had a happy life with his parents, brothers and sisters till the age of seven. They owned a big house with a beautiful garden where his mother has planted colourful flowers whose smells surrounded the atmosphere when wind blew. But one day more than dozen soldiers came and took away everything from them. They fenced their land and home with barbed wire and they were forced to leave their ancestral place. After the loss of their possession they started living in a mud-brick hut that was smaller than their chicken coop but it was their fate to live in there.
His father was once very rich and owned Oranges grove which was owned by his family from generations. He was able to sold his oranges in the entire Middle-East and Europe but after the invader came, he was not allowed to sell it outside the village and his market shrank to just some thousand villagers. From a young age, Ichmad was very diffirent from the other boys of his village. His brother Abbas was very social and had many friends but he was not like him. Abbas and other boys of the village idolised Jamal Abdul Nasser, Egyptian President, who stood openly against Israel and was championing Arab nationalism and Palestinian cause. He was a hero for them but for Ichmad, it was Albert Einstein, the great scientist. His brother, Abbas always played games and running outside with his friends all the day but he was a reader, a thinker and didn’t compete with the athleticism of his brother. His father worked in construction, building houses for the Jewish settlers, which was not liked by the people of their village. Many of them refused to build houses for the Jews on the razed Palestinian villages and others because of Israeli policy of ‘Hebrew labour’: Jews only hired Jews. Many boys at school use to say bad things about his father working for the Jews.
It was his twelfth birthday which brought a great disaster and misfortune to the family. A day before his birthday, he heard some footsteps outside his house which he mistook that of thief. Getting worried about the stealing of food which his mother and sister, Nadia has worked hard to prepare and his father has saved all year to buy, he came out of the house to check it. But it was Ali, an extremist who wanted liberty from the Jewish rule by the help of gun. He terrified him and hid the weapons in the dirt and told him not to tell anybody, not even his father. Being scared about his family’s death, he did not tell his father but it was big mistake committed by him leading to the arrest of his father on ground of terrorism. Two weeks later, soldiers came again and pour tear into their house, killing his younger sister, Sara and their house was set on fire.
After his father was sent to prison, he had a very hard and rigorous life. Being the eldest son of the family it was his duty to work for their livelihood. His brother, Abbas also joined him in his hardship and they both worked very hard to survive. And this struggle of the protagonist and his brother, Abbas is depicted by the author in a very pathetic that anybody who reads the book will feel compassionate for them. Though Abbas helped his brother in his struggle, but a time came when he left him, it was so because he decided to marry Nora, a Jew. Being a Jew she was fully concerned about the sufferings of the Palestinian people as she was true humanist. It was this quality of her that inspired Ichmad to marry her. She sacrificed her life in saving Ichmad’s house from being bulldozed by the Israeli army.
Although sufferings so much in the hands of Jews, still his father didn’t have a bad opinion about them and this was the foundation which made the character of Ichmad. He learned the lesson of peace, equality and humanity from his father which served to make him a good human being. Throughout his life, Ichmad worked together with his Jews friends and teacher irrespective of the conflict existing in his part of the world. And the result was that he won the Noble prize for Physics with his teacher Professor Sharon.
In Ichmad’s life, the role of Teacher Mohammad is that of a Godfather. It was he who convinced him to study after his work and gave him tuitions. He benefitted him by motivating him to pass scholarship examination and further it was he, who was responsible for his admission in the Hebrew University. He always inspired and counselled him whenever he needed his advice. And it was Ichmad’s father also who always guided his son on the right path of progress and development though his mother, Um Ichmad and his brother always protested against his decision. Later on, his mother realised that Ichmad was right in his way. Even at the end of the novel we see Abbas also praising his brother for his deeds. So it was the guidance both from his father and Teacher Mohammad that he brought pride to his family and people.
During the novel Ichmad marries two women: Nora, a Jew from America, and after her murder, Yasmine, who comes from his village and he weds in an arranged marriage, even though he is still mourning his murdered Jewish wife. Over time the protagonist not only falls in love with his Palestinian wife, but also sees her greatness.
Through this novel Michelle has highlighted many problems of the Palestinian people as the people from Ichmad’s village were not allowed to dig deeper wells although they were the native people. And they complained that the new people diverted the water from their village by digging deeper wells. They had barely enough water to drink and the new people were swimming in it. There were lands filled with olive trees but they all have become barren because the Jews have planted landmines into them.
Michelle has adopted a humanistic approach to the Israeli-Palestinian problem as though being a Jew; she has depicted the sufferings of the Palestinian people and the atrocities committed by the Jews in the novel. This is what, Taslima Nasreen says: ‘let humanism be the other name of religion.’ So one thing is clear that anybody who believes in humanity and justice will support the Palestinian issue irrespective of caste and religion and that is what Michelle has proved.
The Almond Tree is a heart-touching, powerful and honest story which shows the unbiased attitude of the writer. It is an inspiring description of human sufferings and perseverance. People have highly praised her characterization of Ahmed Hamid and believed that she has transported the readers in to the life of a Palestinian Arab so much without any efforts that anyone can relate himself/herself to him. One special quality of the novel is that Corasanti has used an Almond tree as a witness to the whole story of Ichmad Hamid.
The novel, The Almond Tree is a semi-historic novel based on humanistic approach proving that friendship can exist beyond ethnic rivalry. Through the novel, Corasanti has proved that friendship can exist between Palestinian and Jews they can live peacefully for the progress and development of their region and by sorting out their problem and working for the upliftment of humanity. The novel further proves that any person from the third world countries like Palestine can adjust in the Western society like United States of American and can work like an American does. While United States is considered as a Superpower which can overthrow any country in the world, the novel had tried to depict the liberal side which means the crossing away of ethnic boundaries and the depiction of the multi-ethnic society and the freedom of expression which the country offers.
It is obvious that Literature is a medium through which one can promote cultural diversity and racial integration in terms of variety of human societies or culture releasing humanity from racial as well as ethnic bondages and can restore peace and universal integration and this is proved by the great literary and culturally rich work like The Almond Tree.
“Humanity is greater than any religion in the world.” This is proved by Michelle Cohen Corasanti, through her novel, who though being a Jewish has reflected the sufferings of Palestinians in her novel, The Almond Tree. Not only can this she has also depicted that there can be friendship beyond ethnic rivalry.
1) Corasanti, Michelle Cohen. The Almond Tree, UK, Garnet Publishing, 2012.