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The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East [Paperback]

Sandy Tolan
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (335 customer reviews)

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The title of this moving, well-crafted book refers to a tree in the backyard of a home in Ramla, Israel. The home is currently owned by Dalia, a Jewish woman whose family of Holocaust survivors emigrated from Bulgaria. But before Israel gained its independence in 1948, the house was owned by the Palestinian family of Bashir, who meets Dalia when he returns to see his family home after the Six-Day War of 1967. Journalist Tolan (Me & Hank) traces the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the parallel personal histories of Dalia and Bashir and their families—all refugees seeking a home. As Tolan takes the story forward, Dalia struggles with her Israeli identity, and Bashir struggles with decades in Israeli prisons for suspected terrorist activities. Those looking for even a symbolic magical solution to that conflict won't find it here: the lemon tree dies in 1998, just as the Israeli-Palestinian peace process stagnates. But as they follow Dalia and Bashir's difficult friendship, readers will experience one of the world's most stubborn conflicts firsthand. 2 maps. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* To see in human scale the tragic collision of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, Tolan focuses on one small stone house in Ramla--once an Arab community but now Jewish. Built in 1936 by an Arab family but acquired by a Jewish family after the Israelis captured the city in 1948, this simple stone house has anchored for decades the hopes of both its displaced former owners and its new Jewish occupants. With remarkable sensitivity to both families' grievances, Tolan chronicles the unlikely chain of events that in 1967 brought a long-dispossessed Palestinian son to the threshold of his former home, where he unexpectedly finds himself being welcomed by the daughter of Bulgarian Jewish immigrants. Though that visit exposes bitterly opposed interpretations of the past, it opens a real--albeit painful--dialogue about possibilities for the future. As he establishes the context for that dialogue, Tolan frankly details the interethnic hostilities that have scarred both families. Yet he also allows readers to see the courage of families sincerely trying to understand their enemy. Only such courage has made possible the surprising conversion of the contested stone house into a kindergarten for Arab children and a center for Jewish-Arab coexistence. What has been achieved in one small stone building remains fragile in a land where peacemaking looks increasingly futile. But Tolan opens the prospect of a new beginning in a concluding account of how Jewish and Arab children have together planted seeds salvaged from one desiccated lemon tree planted long ago behind one stone house. A much-needed antidote to the cynicism of realpolitik. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

Praise for The Lemon Tree:
 
"[An] extraordinary book…A sweeping history of the Palestinian-Israeli conundrum…Tolan's narrative provides a much-needed, human dimension to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But he also skillfully weaves into this tale a great deal of history, all properly sourced. Despite the complex and controversial nature of the story, this veteran journalist has produced a highly readable and evocative history."--Washington Post
 
"The Lemon Tree: An Arab, a Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East is the story of two people trying to get beyond denial, and closer to a truth they can both live with. By its end, Bashir Khairi and Dalia Eshkenazi are still arguing, talking -- and mostly disagreeing. But their natures--intellectual, questing, passionate and committed--may represent the best hope of resolving one of the most intractable disputes in human history…It is very tempting to write off the Israeli-Palestinian standoff as insoluble. But one lesson of The Lemon Tree is the relatively short span of its history. The conflict between the two peoples is little more than a century old."--Seattle Times

 "No novel could be more compelling...This book… will haunt you long after you put it down. And it will certainly be one of the best works of nonfiction that you will read this year."--Christian Science Monitor
"A graceful, compassionate and unmuddied presentation of Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the lives of an Arab and a Jew, strangers who forge a connection and a reconciliation while never veering from their passionate desires for a homeland."--Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
"Quite simply the most important book I've read for ages...a handbook to understanding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a narrative that captures its essence through tracing the connected lives of two extraordinary individuals. Literally the single work I'd recommend to anyone seeking to understand why the conflict remains unresolved, and why it continues to dominate the region."--Time
 
"Beautifully told…a very poignant but impressively unsentimental story…It reads like a work of fiction."--Nation
"Sandy Tolan has found a remarkable story, and has told it in all its beauty and sadness."--Adam Hochschild, author of Bury the Chains and King Leopold's Ghost
 
"Truly remarkable."--Tom Segev, author of One Palestine, Complete and 1949:  The First Israelis

From the Back Cover

In the summer of 1967, Bashir – a young Palestinian man – knocks on the door of his childhood home in the town of Ramla in Israel, a home from which his family was driven some twenty years earlier. The door is opened by a young Jewish woman, Dalia, whose family settled in the house after fleeing persecution in Bulgaria at the end of the Second World War. Thus begins an unlikely and difficult friendship, which bridges religious divides and lasts more than four decades. The Lemon Tree tells the story of this extraordinary friendship and offers a much needed human perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. ‘At a time when peace seems remote and darkness deepens, this lucid, humane, hopeful book shines like a ray of light’ The Times 'Reads like a novel...an informed take for anyone interested in the human stories behind a conflict’ New Statesman ‘A fascinating and highly absorbing account full of warmth, compassion and hope’ Belfast Telegraph ‘Extraordinary…a highly readable and evocative history’ Washington Post ‘Affecting…sensitively told. Humane and literate – and rather daring in suggesting that the future of the Middle East need not be violent’ Kirkus Reviews --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Sandy Tolan is the author of Me & Hank: A Boy and His Hero, Twenty-five Years Later. He has written extensively for magazines and newspapers, and has produced dozens of documentaries for National Public Radio and Public Radio International. He was a 1993 Nieman Fellow at Harvard University and an I. F. Stone Fellow at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, where he teaches international reporting.

From AudioFile

This portrayal of two real families, one Jewish, the other Arab, is living history that someone will surely turn into a documentary. It reveals the parallel and divergent lives of Bashir and Dalia, both struggling since the 1940s through the bloody clashes in and around what is now Jewish Israel. Tolan's well-documented nonfiction explores the very souls of Bashir and Dalia--tortured, conflicted, proud, and hopeful, but rarely cheerful. That's why Tolan's voice is not the best fit for his own rich writing. He reads too fast and is too perky to perform this grave chapter in Middle Eastern history. A professional reader could make this an audio award winner. D.J.M. © AudioFile 2006, Portland, Maine-- Copyright © AudioFile, Portland, Maine --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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