16 January, 2014

#Interview with Michelle Cohen Corasanti, Author of The Almond Tree

Welcome to b00k r3vi3ws. It is a pleasure to have you here.

What would you say the true essence of your book is?
The true essence of The Almond Tree is that we should celebrate differences and find our common humanity. It’s about peace, love and tolerance.

How do you think your education and your experience in Israel helped shape up this book? Do you think that this book would have born anyway without either one or both of them?
The Almond Tree is a very personal story. I wrote about what I know, lived, experienced, learned and witnessed. My education and personal experience are integral parts of the book. They are both indispensable parts of the story. 

Do any of your characters share your personal quirks?
I’m not in the book at all. I could step into others’ shoes, but I was unable to write about myself. 

Tell us more about Ahmed and Nora…
The focus of my new book is Ahmed and Nora from Nora’s POV. When I began writing The Almond Tree, I wanted the story to be about star-crossed lovers, Ahmed and Nora. I was inspired by a Palestinian I met at Harvard. I was unable to capture Nora’s POV. In retrospect, I can say it’s because I tried to make her into who I wished I could have been instead of who I actually was. My story just flowed from Ahmed’s POV, maybe because I heard so many stories from Palestinian males.  I had to limit Nora’s role because I didn’t want Ahmed to see all her flaws. Their relationship is just a small part of his story. In my next book, their relationship is Nora’s whole story. 

While reading about a twelve year old boy and seeing his world through his innocent eyes I felt somewhat conflicted. I was sad, angry yet hopeful. What was it like for you to write about Young Ahmed?
It has been a very emotional journey. My time in Jerusalem was the worst part of my life and having to relive that nightmare in order to try and show people the type of things I learned and witnessed in order to shine a light was difficult to say the least. On the other hand, people are responding to my message so I am thrilled about that. 

From the conception of an idea to marketing a book, it is a long process. Which part did you enjoy the most and what was the most difficult phase for you?
I was in college for ten years and when I left, I never thought I would return. I barely went out for a decade. I guess I’m a nerd at heart because I found a way to reach people and I went for it with everything I had. I worked for seven years taking twenty-one writing classes, working seven days a week, during every spare second I had to try and write a story powerful enough to reach into readers’ hearts.  That was my favorite part. The most difficult part was reliving the part of my life I needed to tap into in order to write this story.

Did the response from the readers match your expectations from the book?
Yes and no. I think I’m reaching the same audiences as The Kite Runner. I’m reaching people who just like a good story and who aren’t necessarily interested in the conflict. I have been shocked to have as many Israeli supporters as I have seen. A review in the Times of Israel said, “Although possibly difficult for Israelis and Jews everywhere to read, The Almond Tree should be required reading for all as when there is understanding of the other side, peace can be achieved.” The vast majority of Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims as well as Jewish readers have given me very positive feedback. 
I was shocked at one Palestinian American novelist who attacked my book and me claiming I was basically a racist criminal who distorted Palestinian legacy. She, however, thought I was writing about the Palestinians from the West Bank. For more than the first hundred pages, my book is about my protagonist’s village being under Israeli martial law until 1966. Israel didn’t even occupy the West Bank until 1967. There is no way that my book could be about a Palestinian from the West Bank. She claimed I stole Palestinian narrative because I wrote historical fiction which of course is a literary genre. She lived in East Jerusalem for 6th and 7th grade and then in foster care in the US from the age of thirteen on. She still lives in the US. I was shocked by her false accusations as were other Palestinians who read my book and know me especially in light of the fact that articles in major publications such as the Huffington Post claim The Almond Tree could be a game changer. 

All writers are readers first. Who are your favourite authors and how do you think their works have influenced your own writing?
Khaled Hosseini is my favorite author and his writing definitely influenced me. He opened the east to the westerners. He wrote a story that transcended genres and taught me that a writer can reach into readers’ hearts.

Are you going to tell us more stories?
I’m just finishing my next book. This is from Nora’s POV and it’s really a social commentary on American society. I’ve written it in more of an American style. Think of Emily Giffin meets Eric Segal in Love Story. This book is about what it was like for me to come back to Harvard after living in Israel for seven years. 

One message to the bookworms who are yet to pick up your book.
Many people have described my style as similar to The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. If you like Khaled Hosseini, you will probably like The Almond Tree.

Thank You for being here Ms.Corasanti. Readers, you can check out my recent review of The Almond Tree.

About the Book

Against a background torn from the pages of today’s headlines, The Almond Tree, by Michelle Cohen Corasanti, recasts the Palestinians in Israel and Gaza, a people frequently in the news, but often misrepresented and deeply misunderstood. This stunning debut conveys a universal story of human courage and perseverance. Comparable to Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, this novel delivers an inspirational story of unfathomable pain and an incredible perseverance. Gifted with a mind that continues to impress the elders in his village, Ahmed Hamid struggles with knowing that he can do nothing to save his friends and family. Living on occupied land, his entire village operates in fear of losing their homes, jobs, and belongings. But more importantly, they fear losing each other. On Ahmed’s twelfth birthday, that fear becomes reality. With his father imprisoned, his family’s home and possessions confiscated, and his siblings quickly succumbing to hatred in the face of conflict, Ahmed begins an inspiring journey using his intellect to save his poor and dying family. In doing so he reclaims a love for others that was lost through a childhood rife with violence and loss, and discovers a new hope for the future.

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