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Secrets Under the Olive Tree Paperback – June 23, 2015
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About the Author
Nevien Shaabneh is an Arab-American writer, teacher and speaker. Shaabneh graduated from the University of Illinois at Chicago with a bachelor's in English Education and from Saint Xavier with a Masters in Arts. Secrets Under the Olive Tree is her debut novel.
Top customer reviews
Being a Palestinian woman who came to America, the author writes some of this from personal experiences of herself as well as the people around her. By using writing techniques of flashbacks and flashforwards, the author creates almost two stories in a way and each is as interesting as the other. It makes the reader ask a lot of questions and the answers don’t get revealed until the end in the most unexpected of ways. There are constant mentions of Arabic words throughout that draws in readers who understand them in a deeper way a mere translation would give. It’s to allow those who find themselves in a similar situation to be able to relate to Layla. This book seems to be a PSA for the culture itself to take a look at how the woman struggle. The bad treatment of them is a big secret, hidden behind smiles and lies. It’s the Muslim woman’s burden and it shouldn’t be. Throughout the book, women not only are blamed for everything but often times feel they should blame themselves. In both instances of rape that occurred, both women in the situation decided it was their fault and to carry this burden with them in secret.
There was always secrets. If they were to tell others they would also be blamed for it. It was stated how having a boy is much better than having a girl. The mother and father are called after their oldest son. “... The most important reason for desiring a son is that sons cannot be dishonored regardless of what they do. It is as if God built a layer of rubber on men; their transgressions simply bounce off. Maleness entitles one to a life of public clemency otherwise unobtainable by the fair sex.” Their mistakes are not taken lightly and the issue isn’t religious. As perfectly stated in a conversation about a woman marrying while not a virgin, “This isn’t about heaven or hell, it’s not even about right and wrong. It’s about the public. It’s not God judging her that we’re worried about right now… It’s people, it’s her husband.” Aside from the many secrets hidden behind lies, the overarching symbolism of the olive tree is brought up and changes as the story progresses.
Although the culture and religion seems to have a negative connotation at times, it is clear there is a separation of the two. This story is an excellent read but shouldn’t be used to pity the woman or to hate the culture. Stories of experiences are told from only one point of view. If this was used to describe all woman in her situation, it would be too simple. This merely looks at one aspect of women and brings light to it to speak for those that could relate to Layla. Secrets under the olive tree tells the story of someone who can’t be heard. It’s a public voice to see the beauty in the culture and to get rid of the secrets and lies. The Islamic religion state that women are to be treated equally and this story is a reminder of that. All in all, I would say this is a great read and I would recommend it to anyone.