The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan

I was wanting some to read something which was lighter, but not a mystery. A friend had said that The Lemon Tree was very good so I went to buy it and found I would get the Audible version discounted because I already “own the Kindle.” Ya?  Hmmmm…. I wonder when that happened? lol!  (But I think it’s been on and off my Wish List at Audible several times – heh.)  

The Lemon Tree:
An Arab, a Jew and the Heart of the Middle East 
by Sandy Tolan 

2006 / 542 pages
Read by author 11h 19m
Rating: 9.5 / Israeli-Palestinian conflict 
(Both read and listened)

The Audible site categorizes this book as “memoir/religious” – I don’t quite agree.  Memoir is not even okay because it’s more of a biography of two people linked by a house, a tree and a long, ugly war. Sandy Tolan, the author, is a highly regarded investigative reporter and professor of journalism at UC Berkeley. Paging through the Kindle version I see the book is very well documented but it’s certainly not a memoir.

BUT!!!  This book is not what I expected or thought I was looking for!  There’s a lot of military history and I didn’t realize that until I got into the book. At this point in my reading career I don’t have a problem with military history. Just because it takes place in Israel doesn’t make it a religious book! 

I’ve read a couple books about the Israeli-Palestinian problems before, but that was probably a decade ago. I don’t remember the names of the others but they were nonfiction and included the Lydde and Ramia horror/tragedy in 1948.    

 I started out pretty well but before long I was a bit confused. And by the time I got to Chapter 3 I realized that the book is more challenging than I’d expected due to the military and political detail.  So I went back and started in again at Chapter 2, “House,” where I felt like I was on more solid ground.  Now comes several years of very complex political, military, and personal histories. And then (!) in Chapter 9 we get to the two people who became which was introduced in the first chapter.    

This time the tale made much more sense and although yes, Chapter 4 (“Expulsion”) is pretty gritty as well as confusing, I was hooked. (And I didn’t used to like war stories at all, there are places scattered throughout the book which are definitely war stories. 

It takes awhile to get back to the stories of the Bulgarian-Jewish family, Moshe and Solia Eshkenazi with their their baby daughter Dalia, on their way, fortunately, to Israel.  World War II was over and the Jews were free, more or less. With Theodore Hertzl and  David Ben-Gurion leading them on, thousands and thousands of Jews immigrated to Israel while others stayed in the homeland to see if they couldn’t remake it. The trip was arduous, the arrival in Zion horrendous.  

Meanwhile the large family of Ahmad and Zakia was getting used to life in a single room in a new city where they were despised for having given up their homes. They were forced to live by their wits.  And so the babies, Dalia and Bashir, were driven out of their homelands to new homes in strange lands, where others had just been removed.  Dalia’s family got Bashir’s old house with its lemon tree.  One day Bashir goes to visit his old house and that’s how he and Dalia meet. They connect on a personal level and they meet again and write letters. 

The narrative is chronological, but goes back and forth between Israeli and Arab operations. Family information is inserted as applicable at first but more and more as the story goes on. Dalia gets into peace-promoting activities while Bashir becomes a terrorist and the leaders can’t stop the war. 

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