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Corasanti unknowingly affirms criticism of ‘The Almond Tree’

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
on 44 Comments

Update February 4, 2016: We have published a rebuttal to this article by Ahmad Abu Hussein, a primary source with first-hand knowledge of the subject-matter in question. 

Original:

Michelle Cohen Corasanti’s response to Susan Abulhawa’s critique of The Almond Tree proves Abulhawa’s point about the book coming off as informed by white privilege and the white savior complex.  Here are some of Corasanti’s major points, which need to be deconstructed:

1. Corasanti stated, “I didn’t need a Palestinian editor because I lived among the Palestinians inside the green line for seven years and saw with my own eyes the Palestinian reality.”

Dawud Walid

Dawud Walid

This is statement speaks directly to the arrogance of Corasanti that Abulhawa described.  Abulhawa is Palestinian, born to a Palestinian family and raised among Palestinians in Jerusalem, in Jordan and Kuwait.  Her characters were composites of grandmothers, uncles, aunts, neighbors and friends.  Yet she still had several of her Palestinian friends and at least one Palestinian academic read her manuscript at different stages because she understands what Corasanti clearly doesn’t that novelists should approach the lives of others with humility.  The Palestinian struggle with its many painful facets is something Abulhawa grew up with. She wasn’t an observer “on weekends” while away at school, but she still didn’t presume to fully comprehend everything her grandmother and parents told her about their dispossession and she sought to authenticate her writing from those who did.  To do otherwise is arrogant and insensitive in the extreme.

2. Corasanti also said, “[Abulhawa] suggests that only Palestinians should write about the Palestinian narrative.”

Abulhawa has written favorable reviews of a Palestinian narratives by non-Palestinians. The most recent is of a book titled The Wall, by William Sutcliffe (who is white and Jewish).

3. She further stated, “I am completely mystified by Ms. Abulhawa’s criticism of The Almond Tree“.

It makes perfect sense that Corasanti is mystified by Abulhawa’s objection to the caricaturizing of Palestinians, the romanticizing of collaboration, and the diminution of the valiant Palestinian struggle over the decades.  This is a textbook white privilege reaction that believes it is the prerogative of white people to fix brown lives, that nothing should be beyond their reach (not even the wounds they caused) to interpret, manipulate, pity, photograph or exoticize.

4.  She then postulated “especially since The Almond Tree reaches audiences in the United States not shared widely by readers of Edward Said or Ms. Abulhawa.”

The Almond Tree

The Almond Tree

Is she really putting this orientalist novel above Edward Said’s work?  Maybe not. It’s difficult to tell.  But for clarification, as one of the greatest intellectuals of our time, Edward Said transformed the way in which we view the world.  You cannot go anywhere in the world and not find educated people who know his work intimately.  And though his work is not pop culture, it has certainly affected pop culture.  As for Abulhawa, her book actually is a bestseller and has been read by millions the world over.   But all that is beside the point.  It’s the nature of the narrative that concerns us all, and like all people, Palestinians have a right to their own stories and they have a right to criticize and call out distortions and self-serving distortions of their lives.

 

5.  She then stated, “Ask yourself, what is more powerful, one hundred books written by the victims of oppression describing occurrence after occurrence of loss, hardship and suffering or one book described as Kite Runner-esque and predicted to be one of the best sellers of the decade by an author perceived to be a member of the ruling, oppressor class that condemns the unjust, cruel oppression by the ruling class and extols the virtues and the legal and moral rights of the subjugated class?”

I think it’s fair to paraphrase that statement as: “Nobody wants to hear the incessant whining of Palestinians.  I’m here to save Palestinians from themselves.”  There are a thousand ways that Corasanti could have shown solidarity and thousands of authentic accounts by Palestinian writers that she could have championed if solidarity was truly her aim.  May I suggest she and those who think like her read this excellent guide on how to check your privilege and be a true ally.

6. She then reiterated, “My protagonist would be from my friend Ahmed’s parents’ generation.  What I didn’t realize was that many Palestinians didn’t know that and believed Ichmad was the Israeli pronunciation of the name Ahmed.”

So, Corasanti is actually teaching Palestinians how their names are pronounced? Further, she did not address Abulhawa’s point that the word “Ichmad” is a form of the verb to suffocate/subdue.

As a Black American, who has traveled to Occupied Palestine more than once, I not only empathize with Palestinians, but I can smell from a mile away those who attempt to transpose their narrative upon marginalized people based upon their privileged arrogance. Using literature and art that falsely depicts the realities and sensitivities of oppressed people can actually do more harm than good.  I applaud Abulhawa for not staying silent in the face of such cultural misrepresentation.

Dawud Walid
About Dawud Walid

Dawud Walid is a member of the Imams Council of the Michigan Muslim Community Council (MMCC). Walid has been a regular contributor to the Muslim Observer newspaper and Illume Magazine and has also been interviewed, quoted, and published in numerous media outlets throughout the globe including Al-Jazeera, BBC, CNN, FOX, NBC World News, National Public Radio, the New York Times, USA Today and the Wall Street Journal.

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44 Responses

  1. jenin
    jenin
    December 4, 2013, 11:35 am

    I have mixed feelings about this. I haven’t read the book (it seems rather a waste of time) but assuming Abulhawa and Walid’s criticisms are accurate, I am glad they are making these points. On the other hand, at the risk of sounding condescending, the vast majority of Americans simply aren’t going to pick up and read a book by Edward Said, or probably by any Arab author . If Corsanti’s book effects practical positive change, I can’t say I have a problem with it. As the daughter of a west bank Palestinian who immigrated to the United States in his 20’s, my greatest hope is that my father gets to see the lives of his family, all of whom remain in the region, improve before the end of his life. It is certainly not ideal that Americans become aware of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians through the writings of a western white Jewish woman, which are apparently problematic for the reasons Abulhawa and Walid discussed, but after watching my father suffer my entire life knowing what is being done to his people, I no longer care about ideals. I just want change. That doesn’t mean the criticisms of the book are not valid.

    • pabelmont
      pabelmont
      December 4, 2013, 12:05 pm

      Jenin: Well said.

      I agree that more Americans are likely to read this popular book than an academic book by anyone, including Edward Said. If it informs them in a helpful way, then perhaps it is not so terrible that it might have been even more helpful.

      But I also agree with the criticism regarding the author not getting a few (not merely one) Palestinians to read the drafts. Imagine how our (USA) media might be improved if BLACK people, HISPANIC people, PALESTINIAN people, etc., were daily and honestly consulted by the editors of all MSM and NPR, etc. Unless writers are TRYING to hide social truths, they simply cannot rely on their own “takes” to describe the difficult realities of other peoples. Some people even get degrees in anthropology, in the study of which they lean how to know what are their own prejudices and what are more-or-less objective facts about other people. reporters are also supposed to be able to make this distinction. Always more-or-less, I daresay, in each case, but still the attempt should be made.

      When this author lived among Palestinians, as I assume, did she tell them she was studying them to write a book? Might that have changed what they told her, showed here?

      CONSULTING on a proposed text for publication (or earlier book proposal) is definitely the way to go.

      • jenin
        jenin
        December 4, 2013, 12:18 pm

        @ Pabelmont–I completely agree with all you’ve said. She certainly ought to have consulted and involved more Palestinians in writing this book. My basic sentiments are that it is deplorable and unfortunate that westerners, particularly Americans, won’t read writers like Edward Said and for the most part remain extremely ignorant about the entire situation in Israel/Palestine. I wish that weren’t so. But if, in reality, it takes a silly, vapid book to get people to understand, pay attention, and act, then so be it — I would rather that book be written than not be written at all. However, assuming the criticisms of Abulhawa and Walid are accurate, Corsanti should not be shielded from them.

  2. eljay
    eljay
    December 4, 2013, 12:02 pm

    >> jenin @ December 4, 2013 at 11:35 am

    Well said.

  3. W.Jones
    W.Jones
    December 4, 2013, 12:56 pm

    Hi Dawud!

    I like the photo of you in the article.

    1. I disagree that Corsanti needed a Palestinian co-editor, just as I think a white person could write a story from a black perspective, even without a black editor. But what I believe would have happened in my hypothetical is that the writer would have shared his novel with other black people for their comments, and with a sense of pride and gladness. As a result, the black people, professors, friends, etc. would have given their comments on how they thought it sounded. Perhaps Corsanti did this………………. In other words, while it is not necessary, it would happen- and with gladness- if one was trying to write from their perspective. Does that make sense?

    2. It was remarkable that you pointed out: “Abulhawa has written favorable reviews of a Palestinian narratives by non-Palestinians.”
    Thank you.

    3. Perhaps I will be contrary, but I can see Corsanti being mystified. I could probably go through and justify main ideas of what Corsanti did and then say Susan wrote too hard a review. From the author’s perspective I can see her therefore being mystified. Corsanti could validly write a story of opposite lives- a rich person and a poor person, a collaborator and resister. (I really did not like a few things I heard though……… about a bulldozer accident……)

    4. Regarding your fourth point, her statement is of course correct that her book reaches some audiences the other books do not. That is true for many books reaching audiences others don’t. I don’t think you necessarily meant it as a rebuttal, because you aid you were not sure if she was putting her book above others.

    5. Unfortunately I cannot strongly disagree with your paraphrase of her statement as: “Nobody wants to hear the incessant whining of Palestinians. I’m here to save Palestinians from themselves.” What is the point of contrasting 100 Palestinians’ books with her own book?

    6. I don’t really have much comment about the name thing. If she is right and Palestinians used the name Ichmad, then it is not really a major problem. On the other hand, if it’s a rare name and has bad connotations among 80% of Palestinians, then Susan’s criticism is at least a valid one from a literary point of view.

    I don’t want to be too critical of such an author, it can be a good attempt or “try”, after which she could hopefully develop more in future books.

    Regarding the smell test, there were some things that were the opposite of roses in her reply, otherwise there would not have been so much criticism after her clarification. Her “unlike Susan” comment was one example.

    I did think she made some good explanations though, like about the sword, showing that it was a real event. Something should be said also about the fact that the author married a Palestinian. If she was only about privilege and arrogance and lack of empathy, she would not have done that for sure.

  4. Krauss
    Krauss
    December 4, 2013, 1:04 pm

    This is a textbook white privilege reaction that believes it is the prerogative of white people to fix brown lives, that nothing should be beyond their reach (not even the wounds they caused) to interpret, manipulate, pity, photograph or exoticize

    This is a problematic quote. There is validity to the notion that a non-Palestininan should tread carefully, and even a Palestininan should tread carefully, when writing about the intimate lives of Palestininas. Corsanti did come off as a bit arrogant in her reaction.

    Never the less, the above attitude is problematic because of several reasons:

    1. It assumes collective responsibility of white people, of which there is close to a billion on this earth, for things happened way in the past and/or for things that a very, very small sliver of a minority of white people are doing to others.

    2. Converseley, just because your skin is brown, well, so is the skincolor of 4 other billion people. There’s no magic racial understanding you get because of it and to assume so is the height of not just racialist thinking, but also arrogance and myopia, the same thing you accuse Corsanti of.

    3. Corsanti ultimately wanted to help Palestinians and this should be acknowledged in whatever criticism one has. You get the feeling Walid is uncomfortable with any white person, Jewish or not, writing about these issues. Well, Mondoweiss is run by white Jewish non-Palestinians. The Israel Lobby, which was the most important book in many respects in talking about the power that Israel could muster in the media and/or on capitol hill, was written by white gentile non-Palestinians. You have Max Blumenthal’s book, again the same thing.

    4. Which leads me to my last point. The Palestinian narrative would never have received the attention it deserved if it wasn’t for, mostly, non-Palestinian voices in the Western world and beyond. Many of these voices, at least some of the more influential, were and still are white. There are many examples of help, direct or indirect, which if we followed Walid’s intolerant racialist thinking, would be dismissed as whites helping brown people.

    So, in summary, while I agree with the notion that one should tread carefully, and certainly not react as angrily as Corsanti did when confronted with problematic issues with your work, as she did, the racial essentialism/isolationism described in this review is problematic for other reasons.

    Walid may give himself the privilege to rant about white liberal activism, but if you ask the people in the occupied West Bank if they’d like to be helped in their struggle, I highly doubt they’d follow his advice of rejecting any white help out of racial identity politics. This is an example of the racial myopia that exists in the U.S. and is divorced from what needs to be done; namely raise consciousness of the issue.

    So while Corsanti should be more careful in getting Palestinian perspectives in the editing process, Walid ultimately shows more of his own bigotry/racial intolerance in his reply. And he doesn’t speak for Palestinians nor does he speak for billions of brown people just because of his race, no matter how much he wishes to claim that mantle.

    • W.Jones
      W.Jones
      December 4, 2013, 2:04 pm

      Krauss,

      I feel it would be helpful to hear more from Dawud before making such a strong judgment. He could just be generalizing but in fact doesn’t feel so strongly that way. After all, Dawud pointed out Susan gave a positive review to non-Palestinians’ books. That is why I would not judge him too harshly at this point.

      Malcolm X once was asked by a white lady what she could do to help black people and he responded You can’t. I saw it in a movie so it must be true.
      But anyway, that would be the kind of thing you are talking about.

      • Krauss
        Krauss
        December 4, 2013, 4:03 pm

        That Susan is capable of appreciating non-Palestinian, and especially white/Jewish non-Palestinian help, isn’t really saying a lot about Dawud. He merely tried to use that as a rhetorical ploy to earn himself credibility by using her.

        As for “hear more from Dawud”; I’m judging him by his words in this essay. The quote I used is very telling of his mentality, but I could use more if you want to.

        As I said; he has a lot of essentialist views on race. As if being brown makes you understand the struggles of other billions of brown people. And his arrogant way of speaking for the Palestinians who live in the WB. Dawud may or may not be Palestinian himself, but he doesn’t represent all Palestinians just like I don’t represent all Jews.

        Nobody has done any polls so we can’t know for certain, but as I said, I strongly suspect that Palestinians would laugh at his intolerant identity politics, which are really myopically American, and instead embrace someone who wrote about their struggles.

        Even if someone wrote less accurate about those struggles than she could have had she enlisted the help of Palestinians, which is criticism I think is valid(and further, she shouldn’t have been so defensive about it once it was pointed out), that’s still fundamentally something she does to help Palestinians and I highly, highly doubt that they would have the attitudes of Dawud. If they understand what she’s trying to do; i.e. raise consciousness of the Palestinian people’s struggle, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that they’d support the general thrust of it, even if they of course would have nibbled with details. As the old saying goes; it’s the thought that counts.

        But for people like Dawud, someone’s skin color is an immediate disqualifier to even begin to care to try to help Palestinians and that says more about his own intolerance than anybody else’s.
        And again, I find it absolutely hilarious that he thinks he can speak for billions of brown people just because he has that skin color of when and/or how a white person can write/engage an issue. Pro tip Dawud: you speak for nobody but yourself and don’t assume brown people all over the world share your intolerance just because of their skin color. They’re better than you.

        Let them decide for themselves.
        And never, ever try to speak for an entire group like you just did just because of skin color.
        You don’t have that privilege nor do you have that authority.
        Maybe you should read your own article and take your own advice.

      • W.Jones
        W.Jones
        December 4, 2013, 6:37 pm

        Hi Krauss,

        A serious difficulty in making this kind of judgment is that the person is writing an opinion about what you pointed out is a valid criticism of Corsanti’s work.

        If Dawud instead were to write more about the concept of white people writing from a Brown person’s perspective it would give us a better clue about what he thinks. In fact, right now he could come into the comments section and explain it better.

        It is hard to think that he means white people should not write on behalf of brown people at all. Just to pull a random anti-colonialist out, Castro happened to be from Spanish and Jewish background, yet it would be hard to imagine leftists complaining about him writing on behalf of brown people.

        In other words, Dawud is writing about a valid issue with the book and it is one that can be common to other times people of the dominant group write about them. How often does this mean it happens? Is it inherent in the process? I doubt it. Dawud linked to a website about whites when writing and white privilege, and it actually took the view that white people are able to write well on behalf of minorities if they kept some things in mind. One of the things that stood out at me was that the writer does not have to, in fact should not expect that everyone in the minority would praise the writing, but that the white writer should not get sidetracked by this. In fact, the article Dawud linked to was thereby affirming white writing.

        In fact, if that is true, one does not have to get sidetracked by what Dawud wrote or the article he linked to. It is just something to keep in mind. And that’s true for what Susan wrote. We should consider their criticisms- and as you pointed out they happen to be one valid issue with the book at hand.

        The quote you pointed to is this:

        This is a textbook white privilege reaction that believes it is the prerogative of white people to fix brown lives, that nothing should be beyond their reach (not even the wounds they caused) to interpret, manipulate, pity, photograph or exoticize

        OK, I can take this quote by Dawud and run in different directions with it:
        A) Oh, Dawud, what are you doing stereotyping white people with phrases like “textbook white privilege reaction”? Are white people’s reactions now so stereotpypical that we just talk like status quo textbooks? Well, I happen to be white, Dawud.

        OR

        B) Yes, Dawud is right. White people are the majority in America and this for better or worse gives them certain privileges. It is just a fact that movies will have white actors to play to a white audience. Unfortunately for some people they get these privileges into their heads. Someone like Stokell had the privilege of being in a white family with black servants. On average white people are better educated and have more money so they are more likely to write and sell books. All of this can go to their heads. There are cases when that reaction happens, and Corsanti’s book can be a study of that process. It can be a study for a textbook of how due to their privileges people who are in the majority- in this case America- react to things due to their privilege. In that sense it is a textbook case of white privilege in action, reinterpreting brown perspectives in favor of the majority group.
        Instead of really making a book from the real brown perspective, she tried to make her book “fair” and “balanced” to appeal to a liberal Zionist or majoritarian audience. This ends up affirming the status quo, which is only perceived to be balanced but is actually unbalanced.

        So Krauss, As you can see there is more than one way to react to Dawud’s comment. He is talking about a real thing in society and about a real thing in the book. How far he wants to go with that, and whether he wants to generalize about white people needs more discussion by him to clarify.

        For example, are all white people stuck with white privilege so that basically whatever they do about black people is “privileged?” If I have a black senior coworker who I like and respect, does that mean somehow I feel better than him? That I don’t really look up to him, or even give what he says authority?

        My guess is that it would be an interesting discussion. And it’s important to have alot of trust when making these discussions, Krauss.

        This brings me to a bigger point you will find helpful. When you and I and others are talking about the Israel/Palestine conflict and issues like anti-Semitism come up there is also alot of trust, especially when doing Palestine solidarity work. I happen to admire Jews who are involved in it, because their bravery and sense of justice and equality shines through. Likewise I hope and expect that they will also trust us who are human rights activists, knowing that we are also motivated by morals and equality and justice.

        If you look at the history of the non-nationalist left, it has basically been about equality and opposing discrimination. That is what proves to me that the idea about “Left anti-Semitism” is basically a canard. Leftists are not motivated by racism or nationalism- that’s why they take their human rights positions against nationalist problems- it is instead social justice that motivates them.

        Turning to more examples, this is also what persuaded me about G. Berlin when she made her slanderous tweet about nationalism. I go on the assumption that when someone, whether it be G.B. or Dawud, is making criticisms about the powers that be that they are not motivated by prejudice. Really, many more misstatements by them to come out by G.B. or Dawud to show that they are.

        Meanwhile, with Corsanti, she has clarified her views in a full article so that we can make a better judgment about them.

        It is nice writing with you, by the way, and I often like reading your insightful comments.

      • kevin
        kevin
        December 5, 2013, 12:58 am

        Krauss, I cannot tell you how much I appreciate and agree with this post. Mr Walid is an overt racist and it’s actually quite shocking to me to see his ugly racist rant posted here.

        Thank you.

      • LeaNder
        LeaNder
        December 5, 2013, 11:07 am

        You both may be interested, that the boy Ichmat himself describes his father as having “olive skin”. The first time I noticed it was, when his father faced Israeli soldiers. Ichmat tells us his color turned from olive to white. I actually do remember where I first encountered the name. In Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. He uses that word, and I still vividly remember asking my mother what it was meant to describe, since I couldn’t imagine people with green skin.

      • Sibiriak
        Sibiriak
        December 6, 2013, 9:44 am

        [Dawud Walid:] May I suggest she and those who think like her read this excellent guide on how to check your privilege and be a true ally.

        Perhaps, Krauss, you need to study that guide and become “true ally”.

        Regarding “essentialist views” it has this to say:

        Asking one person of another culture to be your teacher is disrespectful for a couple of reasons. First, experiences of oppression are utterly personal and often painful. When a white person asks a person of color to share their experiences it could trigger some painful memories.

        Second, this creates a false understanding of entire cultures and people. Humans are so wonderfully diverse, even within subcultures. Latinos are not just Mexicans and what one African-American person thinks about an issue may be different than what another thinks.

        When we tokenize someone, we run the risk of reductionist essentialism, reducing a whole group of people into one fixed idea about who they are.

        Curiously, white people are rarely, if ever asked to represent the ideas and beliefs of their entire race.

        http://whitepriv.blogspot.ru/2010/02/10-ways-to-be-and-ally.html

        “…the ideas and beliefs of their entire race“?

    • LeaNder
      LeaNder
      December 4, 2013, 3:57 pm

      This is a textbook white privilege reaction

      Krauss, since when does “white privilege reaction” * suggest the whole white collective is considered guilty, and not as suggested a “textbook type” ,a specifically patronizing type? …

      How comes you feel addressed in this context? Only since since you happen to not be “brown” or any different shade? Who forces you to identify with “white culture”? I have no problem with Dawud Walid’s take, quite the opposite. Neither do I read this to mean white peoples collectively, i read “textbook white privilege type”. And strictly that confirms quite a bit with what I read so far of the American Dream transported into a made in Israel fairytale. What I am not quite sure about is it as innocent as it looks in his surfaces.

      For me your 4 points are classic, establishing “white intellectual power” , or “culture” over silent Palestinians, Palestinians without noble prices, but here Michelle brings fictional help. It’s the “culture” stupid.

      Maybe you get yourself a copy of Michelle’s book to understand the basis of Dawud Walid’s and Susan Abulhawa’s critique? could they be looking for something with more depths something beyond the highly pompous approach of changing the world with her book. She must be something like the prodigy child genius she portrays with broad rash staccato brushes, if she seriously honestly believes what she claims.

      * I recomment, Richard H. King’s, Race, culture and the intellectual. 1940-1970, as a start. Although Palestine only surfaces in the context of Hannah Arendt.

      • annie
        annie
        December 4, 2013, 9:13 pm

        Maybe you get yourself a copy of Michelle’s book to understand the basis of Dawud Walid’s and Susan Abulhawa’s critique?

        no need to read the book to understand walid’s critique, since he’s critiquing corasanti’s response to abulhawa’s critique. he didn’t mention he’d read the book.

      • LeaNder
        LeaNder
        December 5, 2013, 3:15 am

        After a slightly what felt like a staccato start language wise and some matters that puzzled me, it’s getting slightly better. I guess I feel always obliged to read something I have criticized. ;)

  5. Keith
    Keith
    December 4, 2013, 6:14 pm

    “Michelle Cohen Corasanti’s response to Susan Abulhawa’s critique of The Almond Tree proves Abulhawa’s point about the book coming off as informed by white privilege and the white savior complex.”

    Absolutely. Reading Corasanti’s response to Susan Abulhawa’s critique, I was remined of a line from “Portnoy’s Complaint” regarding his father making “Jewish confession.” That is, the curious phenomenon of denying something while simultaneously providing enough information to essentially substantiate the critique.

    Basically, we have a high-achieving Jew from a Zionist family who spent seven years going to school in Israel, the first two of which were at a Hebrew boarding school during which she had a Kahanist boyfriend. Her initial awakening seems to have occurred one summer while partying in Paris with some Lebanese elites. She returns to Hebrew University where she rubs elbows with some Arab Israelis and hears of someone named Mohammad. She becomes aware of Israeli racism. The intifada affected her. She returns to the US, gets her Masters in Middle Eastern studies at Harvard, continuing on for a Law degree and a PhD. She met her husband at her father’s law firm and lived happily for twenty years until she read “The Kite Runner” and decided that she could write a Jewish cum Palestinian version based her experiences as a student in Israel.

    Had she simply written a work of fiction based upon her observations of Israeli racism and discrimination, that would have been fine (at least with me). But that wouldn’t have been the kite runner, would it? To write something comparable, she has to speak as a Palestinian victim of Israeli anti-Arab racism. Trouble is, the more authentic her account, the less literary license she can take to create her updated version of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” in Palestinian kite runner guise. Also, the less marketable her book will be. What to do?

    Corasanti claims that based upon her experience she didn’t need Palestinian editors for feedback. I agree. If the goal is to overlay “The Kite Runner” onto “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” as told by an Ivy League Jew in Palestinian drag, she had ample material to work with. The key is that she wants to create a Palestinian version of “The Kite Runner,” authenticity of little moment. And since she is a successful, well-connected member of a well-known kinship group, she has had considerable initial success, her CV now even more impressive. Has she contributed to elite mythology? You better believe it. Is Susan Abulhawa justified in her critique? Surely she is. Is the system fair? Of course not.

    • annie
      annie
      December 4, 2013, 9:45 pm

      She returns to the US, gets her Masters in Middle Eastern studies at Harvard, continuing on for a Law degree and a PhD. She met her husband at her father’s law firm and lived happily for twenty years until she read “The Kite Runner” and decided that she could write a Jewish cum Palestinian version based her experiences as a student in Israel.

      however, she mentioned in her article here she had a wedding in at an arab village in israel. so i’m not sure her experiences were primarily based on being an israeli student. there may be some parts of her life we are not privy to.

      • Keith
        Keith
        December 5, 2013, 12:04 am

        ANNIE- “however, she mentioned in her article here she had a wedding in at an arab village in israel. so i’m not sure her experiences were primarily based on being an israeli student.”

        Yes, an Israeli student invited to an Arab wedding. Perhaps one of her classmates. Still, an observer. Nothing wrong with that per se, but hardly a significant defense of the wedding scene in her book involving the groom lifting the veil of the bride with a sword which she more or less admitted that she plagiarized from a movie.

      • annie
        annie
        December 5, 2013, 1:26 am

        more or less admitted

        sounds like more or less being pregnant.

        an Israeli student invited to an Arab wedding.

        hmm:

        Furthermore, I am quite familiar with a wedding in a Palestinian village in the Galilee because, unlike Ms. Abulhawa, I actually had one. Moreover, my Palestinian groom in fact received a scholarship to Hebrew University.

        doesn’t sound like a guest to me.

      • adele
        adele
        December 5, 2013, 5:02 am

        Corasanti’s bio (http://thealmondtreebook.com/author/) is very detailed but nowhere is it mentioned that she was married with a Palestinian. I find it curious that she leaves out that detail considering that she regales us with such minutiae such as the fact that she “returned to public school for seventh grade [and] stopped wearing skirts with pants underneath” and was “lying on a lounge chair, by the pool, at the Setai hotel, in South Beach, sipping a cosmopolitan” when she had her moment of epiphany and decided to tell her story.

        There is something in Corasanti’s bio which troubles me, and which I keep coming back to. It strikes me that Corasanti has never resolved that part of her life in which she was associated/married with a Palestinian man. It is almost as if writing this novel was her way of coming to terms with her past. In Corasanti’s own words she had buried her past:

        “For twenty years, Michelle successfully buried her past and
        pretended it never happened until she started reading Khaleed
        Hosseni’s book, The Kite Runner. She was lying on a lounge chair,
        by the pool, at the Setai hotel, in South Beach, sipping a
        cosmopolitan. She was on vacation with her husband and twins. She
        didn’t have a care in the world until Amir, the protagonist, said that
        the past can’t be buried, that it finds the means to claw its way out.
        And like Amir, Michelle’s past found a way to call her. And there she
        was face-to-face with her worst nightmares and her greatest
        failures. One might say a defining moment. And Michelle decided,
        that she wanted her children to know, that she had seen injustice.”

        Oddly, if one were to read just her bio, in no way does one get the sense that she was married to a Palestinian. Is she still keeping this buried? If yes, why? My impression is of someone who shut out that part of her life and now needs to reconcile with. And this book is a byproduct of that.

      • annie
        annie
        December 5, 2013, 8:06 am

        adele, MW may have gotten an exclusive as a result of the ire abulhawa ignited in corasanti. my hunch is there more here than meets the eye.

      • adele
        adele
        December 5, 2013, 12:35 pm

        My point still stands though, for a remarkably detailed author’s bio an important detail – especially w/ regards to her novel and her professed values – is conspicuously not mentioned, i.e., her marriage to a Palestinian.

      • Keith
        Keith
        December 5, 2013, 3:33 pm

        ANNIE- “Moreover, my Palestinian groom in fact received a scholarship to Hebrew University.”

        Thanks for reminding me of this significant discrepancy with her official biography. Is she planning to update her bio?
        http://thealmondtreebook.com/author/

        Since she is claiming that her story is authentic based upon her time as a student in Israel, her actual history is critical in assessing her claims. Her scene with the Palestinian groom lifting the bride’s veil with a sword has been ridiculed both by Abulhawa and Mondoweiss commenters. In her defense, she cites “Wedding in Galilee” by Palestinian film-maker Marcel Khelifi which apparently has a similar scene. From this I infer that her wedding scene is strongly influenced by the movie for its dramatic appeal at the expense of authenticity. She makes additional references to Arab literature which influenced her work, once again at the expense of authenticity. She seems to be cobbling together various fictional sources to tell a fictional story far removed from any authentic Palestinian narrative.

        Yet, she feels the need to claim authenticity. Hence, the startling revelation that “Furthermore, I am quite familiar with a wedding in a Palestinian village in the Galilee because, unlike Ms. Abulhawa, I actually had one.” Here she is claiming that on her personal experience, she is more knowledgeable about Palestinian weddings than Abulhawa. This is critically important and needs to be pursued. Married to whom? When? Where? Did the groom lift her veil with a sword? Did she meet him at school? Was he the son of a high ranking Palestinian official? Was the marriage legal in Israel? In the US? Annulled? Divorced? Too personal? Not when she brought it up in defense of her bona fides. We already know that her biography is calculated to show what she wants shown and hide what she wants hidden. This is a Harvard trained lawyer with twenty years experience, not some naïve waif.

        Getting back to Corasanti’s official biography, We know she came from a Zionist family, studied for seven years in Israel, had what appears to me to be superficial exposure to the trials and tribulations of the mass of Palestinians, may have been married to an unknown, unnamed Palestinian who later disappeared, returned to the US and got multiple degrees from Harvard, interned at her father’s law firm where she met her current husband and settled down for twenty years before reading “The Kite Flyer.” Let us be honest here. Looks to me that the fruit didn’t fall far from the tree. She may have landed slightly to the left, but what does that indicate? Perhaps a liberal Zionist? In addition to more details about her startling wedding, someone from Mondoweiss should ask Corasanti whether she supports Israel as a Jewish state or Israel as a state of all of its citizens.

        Another thing, this first novel (with the help of 6 editors) seems to be getting a lot of promotion, already having been translated into several languages. Is this the type of response one would expect from a novel seriously critical of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians? Ask Max Blumenthal. No, if this highly promoted book proves successful, expect Michelle Cohen Corasanti to begin appearing on talk shows as a representative of the Palestinian perspective.

      • annie
        annie
        December 5, 2013, 6:45 pm

        keith, to begin with, you’re making a lot of assumptions i wouldn’t make and that i think are illogical. too many to list but i will give you one example. and that’s the idea that a person who is educated at harvard law has more of a grip on their emotional life as a result of that education. and in case it did not occur to you, every author calculates what to show in their bio and not what to show. it’s very common for people not to include past relationships or marriages in their current bio.

        what’s likely is the author didn’t expect to get personally targeted or attacked. and when she did she was surprised and disclosed information, probably as an emotional reaction. possibly impulsive and unplanned. perhaps she discussed this disclosure with her husband or publisher first, but maybe not. even very educated people get caught off guard. she also has children. so who knows how much of her life, a life she led before they were born, she’s disclosed. the way i look at it, either she had the marriage or she did not. frankly i think it’s unlikely she fabricated something like that. more likely she was married there and didn’t want the buzz about the book to be about her personally, but the story she wrote.

        but if she did get married there she may have been describing her own wedding. and for this reason she really could have taken a personal offense to the criticism. that would be my instinct in the way she addressed abulhawa personally on her response. it was a ‘mother cat’ response.

        In her defense, she cites “Wedding in Galilee” by Palestinian film-maker Marcel Khelifi which apparently has a similar scene. From this I infer that her wedding scene is strongly influenced by the movie for its dramatic appeal at the expense of authenticity. She makes additional references to Arab literature which influenced her work, once again at the expense of authenticity. She seems to be cobbling together various fictional sources to tell a fictional story far removed from any authentic Palestinian narrative.

        so let’s pick this ‘logic’ apart. try thinking like a woman here. the movie referenced came out in 1987. from the interview w/corasanti abulhawa linked to in her article listen to the way she discusses nora, the bride in the book.

        the wedding could be modeled after her own wedding (she’s nora)and if it was then it would make sense that as a young bride she saw the movie, possibly with her groom, (before her marriage) and they liked the scene from the movie and included it in their own wedding. (, ie the wedding scene itself was strongly influenced by the movie for its dramatic romantic appeal) either way, it was a jewish bride in the scene so not everything about the wedding was ‘authentic palestinian’ since the bride was jewish.

        but if she’s referencing her own wedding then who am i to speculate her rendering of her own wedding is not authentic? she could be “cobbling together” a combination of historical facts and personal memories to tell a fictional story.

        anyway, yes it’s interesting. and as far as speculating she is a liberal zionist, after reading the book frankly i find that concept bizarre and unlikely. i’m really not going to speculate more about the political leanings of the author with someone who has not read the book. you’re just pulling stuff out of a hat.

        the book only takes about a day to read. if you’re interested in the authors political leanings or motives there’s actually a lot of dialogue and info in the book worth unraveling. but i would start out assuming she’s not lying in her bio, and merely held back information. there’s no imperative for a fiction writer to disclose details about their personal life.

      • Keith
        Keith
        December 5, 2013, 7:22 pm

        ANNIE- “keith, to begin with, you’re making a lot of assumptions i wouldn’t make”

        I am simply making logical inferences from the facts as presented. Since she brought up this stealth wedding, someone from Mondoweiss should press for details rather than you concocting preposterous excuses. Your fanciful description of her supposed wedding was a wild flight of imagination based upon no information whatsoever. You seem remarkably uncurious as to what actually happened that she tried to hide but now reveals. She brought it up, I didn’t, hence, she should be prepared to back it up. And don’t tell me that a hot-shot lawyer can’t take a book critique without wilting. I don’t buy it, nor your excessive deference to her. She came from a Zionist background, she went to school in Israel, she returned to a Zionist home. I see nothing in her objective background to suggest that she is a champion of the Palestinians except, perhaps, her self-serving narrative. Of course, I could be wrong. Easy enough for you to contact her and get the details, along with her opinion on Israel as a Jewish state.

      • Rachel_Roberts
        Rachel_Roberts
        December 5, 2013, 9:23 pm

        Annie, has anyone actually checked out her credentials? Like, are we certain she has an MA from Harvard? Given what happened recently with Elizabeth O’Bagy, and more remotely with the ‘Gay Girl in Damascus,’ Corasanti’s story deserves some delving into.

      • annie
        annie
        December 6, 2013, 2:33 pm

        keith, Easy enough for you to contact her and get the details, along with her opinion on Israel as a Jewish state.

        no easier than you. why don’t you write her yourself? and you’re a fine one to accuse me of concocting preposterous scenarios when i was responding to your concoctions! while your concoctions are logical inferences from the facts as presented. mine are excuses?

        in your ‘logic’ her wedding scene is strongly influenced by the movie, whereas in my ‘logic’ her wedding is strongly influenced by the movie. seriously keith, why is one ‘logic’ and the other a ‘concoction’? furthermore, i was merely examining/responding to your ‘logic’, it was you who started concocting.

        do the homework, the legwork and send it in. we’ll write it up.

        Rachel, unlike o’bagy and the gay damascus story, the author claims the book is fiction. she’s not advising the state department. but as i mentioned to keith if anyone wants to research the author and finds any hidden past they find relevant or newsworthy send it in to [email protected].

        as far as spending my time researching corasanti’s personal life i’m booked right now and i don’t find/see any contradictions that deserve investigation. we’re completely stacked up on comments. and i don’t have any magical abilities to find stuff out. just do the legwork. or maybe write susie abulhawa or walid and asked them to do some research since they’ve both written about her.

  6. Betsy
    Betsy
    December 4, 2013, 9:32 pm

    Has Corasanti written from a *Jewish perspective* about Zionism & the dynamics within Jewish social life in Israel & US that create oppression of Palestinian people & occupation of their land? If her goal is to “shine a light on Palestinian suffering and help bring about peace [leading] to understanding and understanding lead[ing] to change” wouldn’t that self-awareness be an important & necessary literary project? I would be more persuaded by her arguments if she is turning her gaze on her own social identities & political & historical contexts — claims to empathy are most persuasive when they arise out of dialogue, out of a movement in consciousness that goes back & forth between self & other.

    • annie
      annie
      December 4, 2013, 10:02 pm

      Has Corasanti written from a *Jewish perspective* about Zionism & the dynamics within Jewish social life in Israel & US that create oppression of Palestinian people

      there is actually a lot of dialogue in the book, quotes from zionist jewish characters, speaking from their *Jewish perspective* that speaks directly to the “oppression of Palestinian people.”

      wrt to “dynamics within Jewish social life” in the US and “turning her gaze on her own social identities”, there’s one particular outrageous scene in the book which comes to mind, that takes place when the couple go to the (jewish) bride’s parents house to inform them of their marriage. pg 239.

      of course since it’s told from his perspective throughout the book it’s all interspersed w/his thoughts; insertions like (him thinking) ” She couldn’t understand the depth of hatred – or the platitudes under which it hid “, but his thoughts are based on their words, their *Jewish perspective* dialogue.

  7. Sibiriak
    Sibiriak
    December 5, 2013, 11:43 am

    5. She then stated, “Ask yourself, what is more powerful, one hundred books written by the victims of oppression describing occurrence after occurrence of loss, hardship and suffering or one book described as Kite Runner-esque and predicted to be one of the best sellers of the decade by an author perceived to be a member of the ruling, oppressor class that condemns the unjust, cruel oppression by the ruling class and extols the virtues and the legal and moral rights of the subjugated class?”

    I think it’s fair to paraphrase that statement as: “Nobody wants to hear the incessant whining of Palestinians. I’m here to save Palestinians from themselves.”

    With all due respect, that is NOT a fair paraphrase at all.

    • W.Jones
      W.Jones
      December 5, 2013, 1:45 pm

      Sibirian,

      I would not put it the way Dawud did, but I can see how he got that. It seems like she is contrasting the two. What is the point of saying that “one hundred books written by the victims of oppression describing occurrence after occurrence of loss, hardship and suffering” are less “powerful” than her one book?

      I mean, how “powerful” would you rate one hundred books by sufferers of oppression? It gives me a dry lump in my throat.

      Don’t get me wrong. I see how someone can scrutinize that in a dry, cold way and say that Oh, she is just comparing things and saying her book is really good and effective.

      But what is the point of comparing them? Why can’t she just say “Imagine how effective a bestselling book is that accomplishes X, Y, and Z.”

      So I really don’t like how she decided to contrast 100 books by oppressed people with her own people.

      Obviously Palestinians have been unable to accomplish their liberation as of this moment and get their message across to Americans as a whole. Corsanti feels she will reach a much better audience because of her style of writing. Therefore the style of Palestinians in this analogy is shown to be lacking in enough style. That makes it whining rather than something people took seriously. And it’s incessant, because it’s “100 books”.

      Now I actually do like the idea of a person, Corsanti or another, saving the oppressed people. I am a white person who wants to save oppressed people, but you know what, I really really want them to save me. I like other people have all kinds of problems in my life, and want to be saved by those who overcome. So yes I do like the idea of a white savior, but a brown savior is at least as good. My man J.C. was brown and became white while remaining brown. Now I am being silly and goofing around on the comment board.

      But in any case, you can see how unfortunately what Dawud says can be found in her quote, and her decision to contrast 100 books by Palestinians with her own makes me feel uneasy.

      • Sibiriak
        Sibiriak
        December 5, 2013, 11:38 pm

        W. Jones:

        So I really don’t like how she decided to contrast 100 books by oppressed people with her own people.

        I really don’t like how she made her points, but I equally dislike how Walid’s paraphrase distorts Corasanti’s words. Let me explain.

        Walid reduces Corasanti’s statement to two assertions.

        1.)

        “Nobody wants to hear the incessant whining of Palestinians

        “Whining” is the key word here. It means, in this context, “to complain or protest in a childish fashion”; to make a repeated, annoying complaint about something that really is not that serious.

        But Corasanti in no way makes such a disparaging characterization of Palestinian complaints. She writes:

        Ask yourself, what is more powerful, one hundred books written by the victims of oppression describing occurrence after occurrence of loss, hardship and suffering or one book described as Kite Runner-esque and predicted to be one of the best sellers of the decade […]

        So, she never once suggests that Palestinian “oppression”, “loss”, “hardship” and “suffering” are not a real and serious basis for Palestinian complaints, nor does she ever suggest that those complaints are being made in an annoying, childish fashion.

        The problems she sees, therefore, is not a case of Palestinian “whining”, but lack of effectiveness — for two main reasons: a) The books are written by Palestinians and therefore are taken as biased reports, especially in the U.S. where polls show sympathy for Palestinians is extremely low. b) The reports deal with exceedingly bleak, hard-to-stomach-repeatedly subject matter; she is suggesting that a more mixed positive/negative *entertaining* approach a la “Kite-Runner” would gain a much greater readership and thus be more effective.

        2.)

        [Walid] I’m here to save Palestinians from themselves.”

        Again, a distortion. Corasanti says she her purpose is to:

        [condemn] the unjust, cruel oppression by the ruling class and extols the virtues and the legal and moral rights of the subjugated class

        Condemning cruel oppression by the U.S. and Israel and extolling the virtues and rights of Palestinians is hardly the same as “saving Palestinians from themselves”.

        ————-
        W. Jones:

        But what is the point of comparing them? Why can’t she just say “Imagine how effective a bestselling book is that accomplishes X, Y, and Z.”

        That’s a fair point. I think she made the comparison only after she had been attacked as an icon of “white privilege”. I think she could have responded in a more humble, sensitive, politic fashion. That’s a fair critique. Walid, on the other hand, makes an unfair critique by distorting her words and making her a caricature of “white privilege”.

        …her decision to contrast 100 books by Palestinians with her own makes me feel uneasy.

        But what if it is basically true?

    • December 7, 2013, 6:40 pm

      That is a pretty ludicrous and pathethic attempt at a paraphrase. After all, it does completely fail to convey the gist of the original. In the original Corasanti is talking about realtive credulity.

  8. mcohen
    mcohen
    December 6, 2013, 7:08 am

    Read this by the publisher ,sounds like susan abdulwhatti and co. are a tad envious of this gorgeous jewish woman stealing there limelight

    Editorial ReviewsFrom the Publisher

    So how will Americans be able to put on those shoes and see through those eyes? By engaging in loud debate? Vociferous argument? Lengthy lectures? Probably not. Sometimes it takes a small thing, something unforeseen, to open eyes and galvanize opinion. How about a good story?

    Yes, a good story. Here’s one: a novel entitled The Almond Tree. The first novel of a Jewish New Yorker, Michelle Cohen Corasanti, an epic drama of the proportions of The Kite Runner, but set in Palestine. A story that grabs you from the first page and makes your heart go out to the Palestinians without pointing fingers at anyone. An adventure that brings you into the magical world that travelers once crossed on horseback or camel towards Beirut, Amman or Cairo. A land where for centuries Christians, Muslims and Jews shared their traditions. Where the children inherited the land, generation after generation, and the clans stayed together. Where courage was not the absence of fear, but the absence of selfishness. Where children learned a fundamental principle of life: decency.

    Spanning six turbulent decades, The Almond Treefollows Ichmad, a gifted Palestinian boy from a small rural village, on a journey of painful enlightenment as he seeks to keep his family together while trying to make sense of the violent conflict that surrounds him. When he encounters hardships and obstacles, Ichamd must learn to respond without hatred and understand that soldiers are only human beings and that war is merely politics. This novel is not a political lecture, but a gripping and compassionate work of fiction that puts the reader in those shoes that Obama spoke of.

    If Americans can find the time to read this novel, I believe they will be inspired to ask questions and do research. The next time they watch CBS, FOX, NBC or CNN, instead of anonymous refugees or ‘terrorists,’ they will see the faces of mothers with children, grandparents with grandchildren, parents with brothers. People going to work, returning from school, shopping in the market. People who can’t pick the oranges from their own trees because the Israeli military have blocked them off. Students who can’t accept their scholarships to Harvard or Yale because Israeli authorities don’t allow them to leave Gaza. And then, those same Americans who have been silent and unaware will demand justice and peace. Because this wonderful story is not about being anti-Israel, but about helping Israel to live in peace with its Palestinians brothers and sisters. Through The Almond Tree we can step into the shoes of the Palestinians. Then, we will begin to see, with our own eyes, a glimmer of hope in solving a conflict that weighs so much on us all.

    With the onset of adulthood, one already must cope with so much. The Almond Tree follows the struggles of young Ichmad Hamid as his family is lose to strife, imprisonment, and everything they hold dear. The twelve year old learns it may be on him to use his limited talents to help his family and bring back something of a life. The Almond Tree is a strong addition to coming of age fiction collections, highly recommended.

    Corasanti’s accomplished debut novel offers a humanistic look into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict…Sensitive, moving and competently written, a complex novel as necessary as ever.

    The Almond Tree by Michelle Cohen Corasanti is not the definitive Palestinian narrative, rather, it is the story of one Palestinian and his family. It is a work of fiction, but many of the incidents are based on things that really happened to the residents of Israeli Arab villages and the Gaza Strip. This is Ichmad’s story, told in a manner that strongly resembles the voice and narrative used by Khaled Hosseini in his popular novel, The Kite Runner.

    This will not be easy reading for Israelis and Jews elsewhere, but it should be required reading. The pain and suffering described are that of the Palestinian protagonist. The victims of Palestinian terrorism are not mentioned because they play no role in Ichmad’s life. The narrative is clearly one-sided, but it is a side that is unknown to the Israeli public. Any chances of reconciliation and peaceful relations between Israelis and Palestinians depend on hearing and understanding what has taken place on the other side, and this is true in both directions.

  9. December 6, 2013, 7:35 am

    Abulhawa’s criticism was premised on false assumptions that Corasanti distorted Palestinian lives. Abulhawa failed to offer one example showing that. Corasanti lived inside the green line from the ages of 16-23 with and among Palestinians on a daily basis. Not just on weekends. Abulhawa lived from the ages of 10-13 in East Jerusalem and then after than in the US until now. She wants to be the gatekeeper for the Palestinians as she lives in the US making money from fiction she writes about the Palestinians. Major publications such as Huffington Post, The Washington Report on the Middle East, and The Daily Star believe that The Almond tree can be a game changer. It is predicted to be one of the best sellers of the decade and described as Kite Runner-esque and can do for the Palestinians what The Kite Runner did for Afghanistan. Abulhawa tried to show that The Almond Tree distorted Palestinian lives only to embarrass herself with her desperate attempt to try and destroy a novel that is helping create awareness of the Palestinian situation. We must ask ourselves why? Corasanti’s goal is to bring about change. What is Abulhawa’s? Abulhawa’s attack on people who try and help the bring about change for the Palestinians will only serve as a deterrent and stop people from helping. Abulhawa must be stopped.

    Abulhawa claimed “Only in the most orientalist imaginations would a Palestinian groom lift the veil of his bride with the tip of a sword.”

    Please check out Palestinian film maker Michel Khelifi’s movie “Wedding in Galilee” starting at 1:13:52.

    Here are a summary of Corasanti’s rebuttal of Abulhawa’s fabricated allegations:

    Now with regard to specific comments about The Almond Tree presented in Ms. Abulhawa’s review. I feel it necessary to correct certain statements that she made so that our readers are not confused about the history and geography of Israel and Palestine. I believe they are entitled to accuracy.

    The Almond Tree starts in 1955 in a small village in the Triangle inside the green line that I named ElKouriyah village. None of my characters are from the West Bank and no part of my novel takes place in the West Bank. I do not understand why Ms. Abulhawa would think that Ichmad is from the West Bank. In 1955, the West Bank was controlled by Jordan and continued to be controlled by Jordan until 1967. Accordingly, it would be wrong to think that Elkouriyah village was located in the West Bank in light of the fact that for more than the first one hundred pages of The Almond Tree, the reader is made painfully aware that the village is under Israeli martial law. Until 1966, the Palestinians in the Triangle inside the green line, among other places in Israel, were ruled by Israeli martial law.

    I lived inside the green line, in Jerusalem and other places, for seven years, in high school and college in the eighties. I witnessed first-hand the Palestinian reality there. I have my BA from Hebrew University in Jerusalem in Middle Eastern studies. In that program, with me, were many Palestinians from inside the green line from areas such as the Triangle.

    In fact, I came up with the name for my protagonist from a Palestinian friend who attended Hebrew University with me. His name was Ahmed. He was from Baqa Elgharbiya in the Triangle, also known as “The Little Triangle.” As I had no family in Israel, Palestinian friends would invite me to their homes on weekends. I went with him to a wedding in his village. His parents and others of their generation called him Ichmad. They spoke to me in a rural dialect such as, “Chief Halich? Sho Ismich?” This was in the eighties before internet reached us there. My protagonist would be from my friend Ahmed’s parents’ generation. What I didn’t realize was that many Palestinians didn’t know that and believed Ichmad was the Israeli pronunciation of the name Ahmed. As I heard many Israelis say the name Ahmed because he and other Ahmeds were in class with me at Hebrew University, the Israelis pronounce the name with an Ah and not an Ich. My book will be published over the next twelve months in ten languages. Despite being perfectly correct on this point, I have suggested that the name be changed from Ichmad to Ahmed because this level of nuance is lost and even misconstrued by many readers. The South Asian English edition has already been changed.

    Ms. Abulhawa claims “Only in the most orientalist imaginations would a Palestinian groom lift the veil of his bride with the tip of a sword.” She obviously has failed to watch the film, Wedding in Galilee by Palestinian film-maker Michel Khelifi. Furthermore, I am quite familiar with a wedding in a Palestinian village in the Galilee because, unlike Ms. Abulhawa, I actually had one. My Palestinian groom, in fact, received a scholarship to Hebrew University.

    Never did I imply that a sewing machine was used in the tent to make Ichmad’s clothes. As I am someone who knows how to sew and has made many of my children’s clothes, I am well aware that one can sew by hand such items and does not need a machine. As a novelist, it was important for me to show that Ichmad’s family lived in abject poverty. One way I achieved this was to show his family being so poor that the mother had to make their clothes. Another is to show rice was a staple in their diet. I did this not to show that the Palestinian diet is rice based, but because I had a Palestinian friend whose father went to prison for over a decade and he told me that they were so poor that he grew up on rice because they couldn’t afford much more. He grew up on a poverty diet, not a Palestinian diet.

    The Almond Tree shows that Ichmad is not only a genius, but is also smarter than all his Jewish peers. He goes on to win a Nobel Prize. Comparing him to the black domestic help that remains just that in The Help is simply not accurate.

    In Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Beecher Stowe believed that white women would be more sympathetic to the plight of the blacks. As a result, she made white females, such as Eva, who were against slavery beautiful and brilliant to give white women heroines to emulate. The Almond Tree isn’t a beauty contest between Palestinian and Jewish women. It is about giving women heroines to emulate. Furthermore, I did not make all Palestinian women ugly. Ichmad’s first love is Palestinian, beautiful and brilliant.

    Professor Menachem Sharon starts off as an evil racist and so his name helps convey that sentiment. He lies and maliciously tries to sabotage Ichmad at first until he is forced to hire him as his research assistant. When this occurs he recognizes Ichmad’s genius and changes. As my motive in writing The Almond Tree is to try to help bring about change I show the change I would like to see. In Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which President Abraham Lincoln allegedly claimed brought about the civil war, even the white supremacists who beat Uncle Tom to death later convert to Christianity. Harriet Beecher Stowe used Christianity as a bridge just like I used science.

    I took a course in Arabic literature at Harvard called East/West. A major theme in that course was about eastern men who went to the west, fell in love with western women, returned home and were blinded by the west until they realized the greatness of their culture. One story we studied was “The Lamp of Um Hashem.” In that story, an Egyptian man from a rural village goes to the UK to study medicine. While there he falls in love with a British woman. She breaks up with him. He returns to his village. His parents want him to marry his cousin. His cousin is going blind and his parents are treating her eyes with oil from Um Hashem’s’ lamp. He is an eye specialist and insists they stop and he begins to treat her with western medicine. Her eyes deteriorate. His parents begin to treat her again with the oil and she improves. Her blindness represented his blinders. His blinders come off and he realizes the greatness of his culture. He marries his cousin and lives happily ever after.

    Ms. Abulhawa states that Ichmad’s second wife who is Palestinian could not compete with his Jewish first wife. After his Jewish wife is killed Rachel Corrie style, Ichmad is devastated. He agrees to an arranged marriage to please his parents while he still hasn’t recovered from the brutal murder of his Jewish wife. At first he is blind to the greatness of his Palestinian wife and how well suited they are for each other until their son is born and his blinders come off. That is a theme from Arabic literature.

    I didn’t need a Palestinian editor because I lived among the Palestinians inside the green line for seven years and saw with my own eyes the Palestinian reality.

    I cannot think of any events in my novel that aren’t fictionalized reality and my reasons for doing so were as follows. The majority of people in the US don’t care enough to read non-fiction accounts about what’s happening to the Palestinians. By writing about them in a compelling novel form, the reader has 348 pages to become invested in the characters and care about what happens to them. That is why people are saying that The Almond Tree changed the way they view the conflict. Another reason was that if anyone tried to say Israel would never do something that occurred in The Almond Tree, I wanted to make sure I could show that it already had.

    Ichmad is able to succeed because he has a skill the Israelis value. In the end of the novel, when Ichmad finds his brother, the freedom fighter, he realizes that in saving himself and his immediate family, he left his people behind. He then tries to use his stature to shine a light on his people’s suffering. The Almond Tree doesn’t condemn or advocate one way or the other, which is pointed out by Palestinians such as Jamal Kanj, the author of the excellent book, Children of Catastrophe. He has also written a review of The Almond Tree http://www.gulf-daily-news.com/NewsDetails.aspx?storyid=348528. The Almond Tree shows how Ichmad is able to succeed within the framework of the oppressors’ institutions through collaboration while his brother resists. I think it is accurate to show that the collaborator would be financially more successful whereas the freedom fighter sacrifices such success in order to resist the oppressor. My book accurately shows how the resistance fighter is more concerned with his people whereas the collaborator is not.

    • gamal
      gamal
      December 6, 2013, 3:06 pm

      “I didn’t need a Palestinian editor because I lived among the Palestinians inside the green line for seven years and saw with my own eyes the Palestinian reality.”

      “and saw with my own eyes” ….”the Palestinian reality”…..”reality”…well that told us, especially the Palestinians who may not have attained to “the Palestinian reality”, I mean thats the problem isnt it.

      what a shame, it portrays not just reality, but the Palestinian one, have you told them you have seen their reality with your own eyes, oh well yes you have, is it like an aura or something.

      Empathy must be your thing, can you see the reality, Palestinian or less specific, of why such statements might tend to piss those, whose reality you have seen, off?

      Some of your critics are Palestinians, did they get their reality wrong, perhaps they dont see it as you do, or have one other than the Palestinian one, could be you are seeing something else or how would you interpret their behavior, in light of their reality, whose depths you have plumbed, perhaps intellectual discourtesy is an oriental tradition?

      • Sibiriak
        Sibiriak
        December 6, 2013, 7:44 pm

        gamal

        “and saw with my own eyes” ….”the Palestinian reality”…..”reality”…well that told us, especially the Palestinians who may not have attained to “the Palestinian reality”, I mean thats the problem isnt it.

        Sorry, I can’t follow you. What exactly is the problem? Did you find passages in the book that you felt did not represent reality? If so, which were they? Did you find an ideological point of view you disagree with in the book? If so, what and where? Is it simply that a person of one group writing about people in another group is unacceptable to you?

      • annie
        annie
        December 7, 2013, 4:23 pm

        Did you find passages in the book that you felt did not represent reality? If so, which were they? Did you find an ideological point of view you disagree with in the book? If so, what and where?

        sibiriak, i think you’re barking up the wrong tree. gamal, like walid (author of this MW post), is critiquing the book’s author (corasanti) response to abulhawa’s review. neither of them have even implied they’ve read the book being discussed.

      • December 7, 2013, 6:57 pm

        The world may be getting crazier and crazier by the second, but at least we’ve still got Annie Robbins. Thanks for being one of the few sensible people left Annie.

      • Keith
        Keith
        December 7, 2013, 7:35 pm

        SIBIRIAK- “What exactly is the problem?”

        Basically, it is Corasanti trying to be something she is not, namely, an honest spokesperson for the Palestinian perspective. If you haven’t already, suggest you read Susan Abulhawa’s critique, including her link to Vacy Vlazna. There are plenty of examples of distortions of the Palestinian reality to easily disqualify Corasanti as a Palestinian spokesperson. Not surprising in view of her superficial exposure to the Palestinian reality she had while a student in Israel. Surely her experience qualified her to write from her perspective of a sympathetic Jewish woman observer to the abuse, but not from the perspective of the male Palestinian victim of Israeli apartheid. Alternatively, she could have simply written a romantic fiction without the pretensions of authenticity. Jewish American Princess studies in Israel, meets Arabs, marries a Palestinian math genius in an Arab wedding reminiscent of 1001 Arabian Nights complete with a sword and a veil (and perhaps a carved ice camel?).

        Based upon the critiques, I have some real problems with her book, particularly when her perfect Jewish woman Nora “is later killed in a brazen insensitive event stolen from the life and murder of Rachel Corrie.” Try to wrap your mind around that one. She has attempted to transform Rachel Corrie into a Jewish martyr named Nora! A Jewish American Princess crushed by a bulldoser! Are we talking authentic or what? And, no, I haven’t read the book either, however, I have it on order and intend to do so. Keep in mind, Sibiak, that a big part of the complaint is from people excluded from media access who can’t get their story told unless it is told by one of the elites, that is, distorted by the doctrinal system in support of elite social mythology.

      • Sibiriak
        Sibiriak
        December 7, 2013, 10:58 pm

        Annie Robbins:

        sibiriak, i think you’re barking up the wrong tree. gamal, like walid (author of this MW post), is critiquing the book’s author (corasanti) response to abulhawa’s review. neither of them have even implied they’ve read the book being discussed.

        I’ve read their remarks closely several times–they both clearly have problems with the contents of the book itself, not just the author’s reaction to Abulhawa’s review. I won’t bore you with quotes to prove that fact.

      • annie
        annie
        December 8, 2013, 9:07 am

        they both clearly have problems with the contents of the book itself

        point taken sibiriak, but it’s their understanding of the contents based on critiques, not from their own reading of the book. and one of those critiques heavily relied on statements made in another critique as a source.

        keith says he has not read the book, his critique is not based on his own reading. ie, the idea he put forth, that a fiction writer is not being “an honest spokesperson”…for me this takes some mental contortions to accept. i mean, how do you judge whether a writer is not being honest or truthful to the perspective of their characters? how does a person move out of their own perspective, ever? and in the incidence of writing fiction doesn’t every character come from the mind of the writer?

        it’s not to say that one can’t criticize a character in a book or the way they are portrayed, but to challenge the intent, integrity or honesty of the writer raises the burden of proof. and i’m not sure one is qualified to do that unless they’ve read the book.

        albeit, it is fair game critiquing the authors own words, which is what walid has done. but this: “is later killed in a brazen insensitive event stolen from the life and murder of Rachel Corrie.”

        it doesn’t bother me, the idea of a character dying by being run over by a bulldozer trying to protect someones home from being demolished. i wouldn’t characterize that as “theft”. throughout the book the author inserts events or portions of events that happened in real life to real people. hence, the more one is familiar with the actual history of palestine the more one recognizes or anticipates events in the book. that’s common and what many historical novels do. however, the character nora was no rachel corrie (no attempt to mirror her). but she wanted to be, no different than another young person might romanticize about saving the world. and the book does play off this romanticization, and absolutely mocks the character at times, her naivete. but there’s no way you could mistake her w/corrie. for one thing she comes from a massively hypocritical elite privileged zionist PEP family. one of my favorite parts of the book was when she was killed off. and you can’t help but think of her zionist family or a zionist reader and think, see how that feels?

      • Sibiriak
        Sibiriak
        December 8, 2013, 9:22 am

        Keith:

        Basically, it is Corasanti trying to be something she is not, namely, an honest spokesperson for the Palestinian perspective.

        I thought she was trying to be a novelist, not a “spokesperson for the Palestinian perspective” (is there only a single Palestinian perspective?) I thought she was trying to describe and condemn the oppression, hardship and suffering of Palestinians as she sees it . I don’t expect anything else from a novelist.

        If you haven’t already, suggest you read Susan Abulhawa’s critique…

        I have, and I have also read Corasanti’s response.

        Based upon the critiques, I have some real problems with her book.

        I wouldn’t buy any critique of a book without having read the book myself, and especially without any compelling examples of problematic elements. (No novel is perfectly realistic or accurate and beyond debate, btw.)

        …particularly when her perfect Jewish woman Nora “is later killed in a brazen insensitive event stolen from the life and murder of Rachel Corrie.” Try to wrap your mind around that one. She has attempted to transform Rachel Corrie into a Jewish martyr named Nora!

        In principle, I don’t have any problem with a novelist basing characters on real-life people and events. (I’d have to read the book to judge this particular case). I have no problem whatsoever with Corrie’s life being used thusly, and no problem with the character based on her life being Jewish.

        Keep in mind, Sibiak, that a big part of the complaint is from people excluded from media access who can’t get their story told…

        I fully understand that, and can imagine the frustration and anger.

        … unless it is told by one of the elites, that is, distorted by the doctrinal system in support of elite social mythology.

        I just don’t accept that Corasanti is simply “one of the elites”, nor that her novel simply supports “elite social mythology”.

      • Sibiriak
        Sibiriak
        December 8, 2013, 9:34 am

        Annie,

        Excellent points. I so appreciate your intellectual honesty, compassion, and fighting spirit! I think I’m going to say nothing more about the book/ critiques before reading it myself, otherwise I’ll be violating my own principles.

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