Reub's journey

30 August 2013

Cephalopod Coffeehouse: The Lemon Tree

One of the many perqs of being married to John is that I get to tag along when he goes someplace great. When that happens I pick up some fiction to read before and during the trip, and it's always best if the reading is related to the place. When we went to Spain I re-read Carlos Ruiz Zafon's Shadow of the Wind; Japan was Haruki Murakami's IQ84 and while in Kyoto I read Ellis Avery's The Teahouse Fire. Absorbing a culture through the fiction of the place is a roundabout way of learning, but I prefer it to nonfiction.  I'm too lazy to read the facts straight-out.

 


Anyway. Last week we went to northeastern Oregon, and I was without a book about this area.




However I had this, a work of nonfiction being read by a book group I may join. The Lemon Tree, published in 2006, sprang from a compelling 1999 NPR Fresh Air episode narrated by the author Sandy Tolan. It's a history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict told via the true story of Dalia and Bashir; the author says he tried to write as though it were a novel, without a single thing being made-up. Good, that sounds like nonfiction I can handle.

Dalia Ashkenazi's family fled Europe after World War II, just as Bashir Al Khayri's family were forced out of their home in Palestine. Dalia grows up in Bashir's abandoned home, and from the time he knocks on the door when she is 19 years old until decades later when they're both in their 60's, the moral conflict of what is right and what is wrong becomes clouded.



So I find myself reading this book about exile on the very site of one of the darkest and most shameful episodes in US history:  the banishing of Chief Joseph's Nez Perce people from their homeland in 1877.



 
This plaque is on a tiny piece of land deeded over to the Nez Perce at the edge of Wallowa, Oregon: Respect this place, yourself, and all that come here.




The war is over and the Nez Perce will never get their homeland back entirely. But they can come here to celebrate who they are, to dance on the green grass, and to honor their ancestors.

As I absorbed the somber quality of the Nez Perce homeland, I couldn't help but think about Palestine. Turns out I was reading something completely appropriate to northeastern Oregon after all, nonfiction to boot. I did like the book, but-predictably- the most riveting parts are the actual encounters between Dalia and Bashir.  Their dialog nurtures a slight hope that the mobius strip of problems in the middle east might work out to a peaceful end after all.



But like the homeland of the Nez Perce, whatever happens in the future, there will always be a deep and abiding sadness from the past.


To see what others have been reading this month, check out the Cephalopod Coffeehouse at Armchair Squid.


39 comments:

  1. Simply breathtaking photos Kerry! The whole concept of this book has me intrigued.

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    1. It was a great concept for a book, made better by the fact that it all actually happened.

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  2. I like your idea of reading a non-fiction book about places that you visit and the conflicts that those places have dealt with or are still dealing with. Love your photographs as well.

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    1. Nonfiction is a stretch for me, but this time it worked really well.

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  3. I'm with you. Give me historical fiction instead of non-fiction history. Although I might try to find The Lemon Tree.

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    1. I always go for the fiction because I like the escape. I only read nonfiction maybe once a year.

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  4. It's nice to be hopeful amidst all the sadness of the world. I saw the film version of this book, which was well done, although it made me sad.

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    1. Laoch I saw that there was a documentary called the Lemon Tree, but when I read the synopsis it sounded like a different story. Was it the story of Dalia and Bashir's families?

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  5. Love all of those pictures! I love it when I'm reading about a place I've never been to before and then I end up going there. It's so fascinating and brings the culture and land to life!

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    1. Yeah, it sure does. In this case, reading about Israel/Palestine in former Indian lands was pretty strange.

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  6. Before traveling to Palestine last spring, I attended a talk by a Dakota professor who had just been to the West Bank with a delegation of women activists of color, there to bear witness to the injustices taking place there. She drew comparison after comparison between what has happened to the Palestinian people and what happened to so many tribes here in America. We met Dalia while we were in Jerusalem - she is richly spiritual and passionate about the work she continues to do there at Open House (http://www.friendsofopenhouse.org/home/).

    And your photos of that landscape are so beautiful...

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    1. You met Dalia! And Open House continues to exist. That alone is a victory.

      How cool that you went to a talk by a Native American on the topic of Palestine. It was truly coincidental that I was reading this book while in Nez Perce country, but I couldn't get the parallels out of my head the whole time I was there. One of the Wallowa county high schools is getting an AFS student from the West Bank this year, and I wonder how he'll feel about it.

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  7. argh - this is Slim, not Eliza...
    PS - for those who want some historical fiction about Palestine, or want more after The Lemon Tree, Mornings in Jenin by Susan Abulhawa is riveting.

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    1. That one is on my to-read list, too! So many books ...

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  8. Love this review. I haven't read this book and it's been on my to-read list forever. My husband is of Palestinian descent: his dad was raised right in the middle of the '48 war (and has lots of stories to tell about it). Two years ago we went to the Old Country and I got to see for myself what that conflict was like. Not as shocking as I expected, in some respects ... and more shocking, in others. I like your tie-in to the American Indians, though I think there are also quite a few differences between those situations.

    Thank you for reminding/encouraging me to read it! Great review, Kerry.

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    1. Thanks Stephanie. So you have first-hand knowledge of this conflict: wow. I bet your father-in-law could write his own book. Such a tough story. I think you would find this book somehow very familiar.

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  9. Excellent post! I love the photos and I love the way you connected the two stories of displaced peoples. Sadly, it's the story of the world. The reminders are painful.

    I couldn't agree more about reading novels to tap into a culture. During one of my more difficult culture shock moments in Japan, a dear friend recommended trying novels to get back in the groove. I alternated Japanese novels in translation with English works by foreignors - did the trick!

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    1. AS, it was painful to read The Lemon Tree there in Chief Joseph's land.

      I'm interested in what that Japanese reading list looked like. I just started a book called "The Tale of Murasaki" a historical novel about the life of the author of the Prince Genji stories.

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  10. Great photos of that area. I have not been there and now want to see it. You are lucky to travel and be able to relax when you get there. That books sounds good and I vaguely remember the interview, but my brain is so tired these days I don't remember much!

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    1. I feel very lucky, Tabor; there have been so many great opportunities.

      If you remember anything at all about the NPR interviews in 1999 your brain is working fantastically well!

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  11. How awesome must it be to enhance a travel experience with some fiction of that place (and I wouldn't call it lazy- sometimes fiction can be as much or even more of a learning experience that plain facts)

    I'm adding The Lemon Tree to my goodread's to-read.. the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is something I feel strongly about and I'm glad I read this review (also glad I came across your blog)

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    1. Ghadeer, thank you for offering the idea that it isn't laziness which always edges me towards fiction. :-) That makes me feel better.

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  12. Karima, this post has touched me in a very personal spot, as you can imagine. Our group read Lemon Tree prior to our visit to Israel/Palestine and almost all of us had a hard time getting into it. I kept saying "The accords and agreements and dates, etc. are important, but get to the heart of the story and you'll be hooked." And then, spending an evening with Dalia was the icing on the cake! She led us through a shabot service before sharing a meal and talked about the conflict and her part in the effort to bring justice and peace to the area. You can google her, Dalia Landau, and watch a video of her telling hers and Bashirs story. More than once, someone in the group compared what we were seeing and hearing to what has happened in our own country with the treatment of the Native Americans. Thank you for another reminder.

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    1. There are a lot of facts, multiple characters, and many sad events to plow through in this book. But it's what happened, so how could there not be all of that? As you say, though, bringing it down to a human level and the story of just 2 individuals is what makes the book readable. It is SO cool that you had face-to-face time with Dalia.

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  13. Lemon Tree sounds so amazing. I will find it. I love reading about true events. It's a pity there are so many sad events in the past and present. Love those photos. Oregon looks amazing.

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    1. Thanks Denise. If you're an experienced reader of nonfiction you won't have any trouble with this book.

      Oregon has an amazing array of landscapes; you should visit:)

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    1. Thank you Reya. It's a remarkable place.

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  15. A very thoughtful and moving post, Kerry.
    I doubt that there will ever be peace in the Middle East and in all places the stronger (the one with the biggest guns aka the one chosen by some God or other) will prevail over the weaker. T’was ever thus.

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    1. Thanks Friko. Peace in the Middle East doesn't seem likely in the near future, that's true. But I do like the tiny bits of good news and the people who work constructively for solutions; every little bit helps keep the world from spinning completely off its axis.

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  16. Sounds like an amazing book - and this post was great as well. Thanks for sharing.

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  17. Kerry you are a fabulous writer and have tied the book and the story of the Nez Perce together in a very emotional way. I found myself in tears.

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  18. what a brilliant idea ... of course being married to Toonman i dont get to go anywhere but our living room

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  19. Trisha:
    Thank you.

    Granny: I didn't exactly mention this in the post, but tears welled up as soon as I set foot on Nez Perce land. (Perhaps you were able to read this feeling between the lines; or maybe this post exudes sadness.) Grief permeated the place even though it is now an area given over to celebration. So you aren't alone in your tears.

    Daryl: Well you DID just get back from Paris! :) I do wonder what kind of toons Toonman represents.

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  20. What an interesting place. I love the warm light . Stunning.

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    1. Lisa, to experience that warm light in the loneliest place, we nearly ruined our car by driving on rutted ranching roads above the Zumwalt Prairie. I guess it was worth it, although we did break the linkage in the manual shift:)

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