21 June 2010

The Scent of Lemons

I recently read The Lemon Tree by Sandy Tolan; I truly enjoyed it for a number of reasons having to do with hope, enlightenment, and a better world view. One aspect I especially appreciate is the balanced tone. This is no easy feat when you consider the overall theme of the book: the prospect for Mid-East peace.

The author alerts you to his intention in his introduction. He sets as his goal the use of actual source documents as opposed to speculation. He wishes to suppress his own voice, since his voice has no weight in this story: what follows is admirable. When he focuses on Bashir, he uses Bashir's words and his paradigm. When he discusses Dahlia, he uses her point of view, her writing. When he tackles the delicate issues between them, he uses their words to each other, spoken as uneasy friends. He supplements with third-party writings and a review of events. Tolan's "handling" of the issue is to not have handled it at all, but to have laid the facts of the matter before his readers. In addition, he has done so while retaining the emotion, the angst, the pathos of both points of view. I came away with compassion for both sides, with love and respect for both families. I felt, in a small degree, the weight of the problem; I stood in the middle and was emotionally pulled in two directions. What better way to experience the nature of this thorny problem? I have learned more from this book than from all my previous reading combined. I cannot say when I have been better served.

Tolin looks at the lives of two families whose opposite but similar histories weave around the same house. A lemon tree, planted in the house's courtyard by the Arab family, becomes a delicate and poignant symbol of their shared and troubled dilemma. By chance, the two families lives intersect, when events bring Bashir, the Arab and Dahlia, the Jew, together in a tenuous friendship. Tolan makes a fine effort to retain a balance without which this story cannot be credible.

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