When The Almond Tree came to me for review, they said it will remind you of Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. My cynical mind dismissed it as a PR rant. Or was I trying not to be influenced by the what is said about the book before I read it? Either way, after reading this book, I actually thought it had traces of Victor Frankl’s Man’s search for Meaning.
Both of them talk about surviving through the worst possible human conditions and coming out of it with flying colors. Keeping a hope alive for humanity in the middle of hatred, violence and all kinds of divisions that we let come between us and our fellow beings.
This book also opened up the geography and politics of Israel and Palestine for me. Of which, I had a very vague idea based on newspaper reports. At the end of the book, I wanted to pack my bags and visit Gaza. It reminded me of all my friends and acquaintances who have narrated stories of visiting Israel.
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It is a first-person story of Ichmad Hamid, a young Palestinian Arab boy who idolizes Einstein. He can solve complex physics problems in his mind. When he is upset he goes up the almond tree that is the only constant in his life and tries to solve random equations.
His father supports him, and tells him to go beyond human divisions and take the path of education. While his mother and younger brother represent the traditional divisive view where everyone who is not an Arab is an enemy. They must be fought with. They are someone you can never align with or even trust. Against all odds, he becomes the bread earner of the family. He decides to get educated based on scholarship, falls in love with a Jewish girl and ends up doing research with a Jewish Professor.
His journey takes him to America via Hebrew University. He continues to conquer scientific problems and eventually ends up winning a Nobel Prize. Parallelly his younger brother ends up in Gaza fighting for the Arabs and provides the other angle to the story.
At one level it is a very personal story. At another, it is a very representative story of surviving with the sheer willpower of doing something, with the welfare of family and humanity at heart. It also tells a tale of how the availability of money can be an answer to so many evils, but not all.
It is a story that passes through many relationships, father, and son, bread earner of family and dependents, teacher and student, lovers, friends. Then, there is the relation that one has with one’s passion, that can become the biggest driving force for life. There are relationships that he naturally goes through and there are that he thinks have been imposed upon him, to begin with. But eventually grows up to have the best ever companionship through them.
The author presents a very good view of the ethos and problems of the region. She almost ends up introducing the area to you. You can visualize the orange and olive trees being replaced by army camps and bombing and fencing and child labor.
At Hebrew University she provides a contrast between the rural and urban life that seems to universal. In America, she brings out the sense of freedom that everyone has but the prejudices that still exist. At Gaza, she brings out the misery and the agony it leads to. Language is simple, sometimes I felt it is following a trained format, but overall decent.
The Almond Tree is a recommended read.