Friday, July 27, 2007

Review: Sandy Tolan, The Lemon Tree

Any book on such a controversial and emotional subject as the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is bound to draw fire from all sides and Tolan's The Lemon Tree is no different. What is attractive about this book is that we get to know quite personally two people (Bashir and Dahlia) who are both caught up in the conflict, but who are also active agents in trying to further their respective causes. The story is even more compelling in that the two protagonists literally shared the same house. We aren't talking about abstract principles or faceless groups, we are talking about two individuals who claim the same piece of land as their home. The only difference is that one currently owns it and the other wants to return to it, but has no ability to do so. Also, that both come from left-wing political cultures (Dalia's family contained Bulgarian communists and Bashir is a Marxist/nationalist) makes the reader reflect on the struggle for freedom and the limits of nationalism (whether it be Israeli/Jewish or Palestinian/Muslim) as a vehicle for achieving it.

Tolan does a good job of intertwining the relevant history with the story. Although it is history, it is written more like a novel, with flashback and emphasis on the story while the occasional footnote and references are buried in the back. It is a gripping story and I didn't put it down until I was finished.

Regarding comments of pro-Palestinian bias, I don't believe the book misrepresents the Israeli position or misrepresents the history surrounding the founding of Israel, the 1948 War, the 1967 war, or the intifidas. He lets Dalia make the Israeli case in her own words for the most part, and she is about as reasonable as one can get. If Tolan went to the right wing of Israeli society, the case gets worse and more unreasonable, not better. I just think that Americans are so used to seeing the conflict through Israeli eyes, that a more balanced approach is bound to seem "biased." Tolan doesn't lionize the Palestinians either, but it is difficult to escape the reality that even the most reasonable Palestinian is in a bad position and often in a situation where there are no good choices.

I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in learning more about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I haven't read it, but it reminds me of "Panther in the Basement", which is another great book about the conflict in Gaza. It's good to be informed with the things going on there. Two days ago a group of muslims bombed the viagra online office in Tel Aviv, for instance. This a modern conflict happening every day.