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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

An Unflinching Depiction Of Oppression

The Almond Tree - Michelle Cohen Corasanti

Written by a Jewish American, The Almond Tree is the story of scientific genius Ichmad Hamid, a Palestinian growing up in the Occupied Territories, who struggles to educate himself in conditions of the direst poverty and ends up being awarded the Nobel Prize.

It's an unflinching depiction of the systematic oppression of the Palestinian people. Here, for example, is how Michelle Cohen Corasanti describes a visit by the protagonist to the open air prison that is Gaza:

We drove past unpainted cinderblock structures with giant gaping holes. Plastic covered most of the windows. Out in the rain, the streets were packed with wet people of all ages, dilapidated vehicles and donkey-pulled carts. Broken TVs, water heaters, cables and bent iron rods protruded from more piles of rubble, Apartment buildings rendered uninhabitable lined the narrow roads. Abandoned sniper towers were on every corner. Barefoot children sloshed in mud. Rubbish was piled everywhere.

However, it is also the work of a novelist learning her trade. The narrative is excessively episodic, the characters are painted in black and white and the story always feels as though it is written from outside the culture the author tries so hard to inhabit. The result is too obviously a novel with a message rather than a story about real people.