From the Shelves: “The Lemon Tree” by Sandy Tolan

I just recently finished reading The Lemon Tree: An Arab, A Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East by Sandy Tolan, a work of nonfiction that tells of the intertwined lives of two people who share a connection through the same land: Bashir Khairi, an Arab whose family was expelled from their home in the village of al-Ramla during the War of Independence (1948) in the country of what is now Israel, and Dalia Eshkenazi Landau, the Jewish daughter of Moshe and Solia Eshkenzazi, a couple who fled their home in Bulgaria during the Holocaust.

For those interested in the Middle East and especially the Israel-Palestine conflict, this is a poignant must-read. Tolan does a wonderful job of sharing an inspiring story that, above all, is a story of hope. It is a unique read in that it connects two “fighting” groups at a very personal level — the tale of two families, Arab and Jew, who both make an extraordinary effort to understand the side of the other. And they struggle, too, in a way that is very human and tears at the fundamentals of each side’s beliefs. Dalia and Bashir do not always agree, yet there is something that binds them together — a deep desire to truly understand the other.

Tolan’s work is a truly original piece of Middle Eastern literature, in the respect that he has unearthed an incredibly moving story and told it with a gracefulness that lends itself to the understanding of the reader. The story is well-paced and Tolan does a fantastic job of providing background for the events that take place in the book — although I do wish he had spent more time on the development and complexity of Dalia and Bashir’s relationship than on pure historical fact.  But overall he still gets the point across: peace is possible, but it won’t come easily and each side must make an honest effort to — and ultimately succeed in — understanding the other.

My only complaint with this book is that its objectivity is questionable, as this review on Amazon points out. While Tolan makes a great effort at highlighting the horrors of the Holocaust and the fear and discrimination Jews faced around the world, by the end of the story it is quite obvious that Tolan has favored the Palestinian side of the conflict, casting them as the victims in nearly every instance. And he is justified in this in the sense that, yes, the Palestinians were the ones forced from their land, but I still feel as though he could have been more sensitive to the Jewish point of view as well and gone into more depth about the side of Israel that really does want to achieve a peaceful settlement with the Palestinians.

In all, however, I must say that this is an excellent read, and a fairly well-written account of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If you’re familiar with the situation, this is a great way to enhance your understanding. If the Middle East is not an area that you are well-read in, this book is an essential story with which to introduce yourself to the conflict. It’s also a beautiful work of non-fiction that is easy to read for the most part and therefore perfect for those who, well, don’t read a whole lot of non-fiction. Just remember to keep an open mind when reading this book — especially if you haven’t read much about Israel-Palestine — so as not to fall for the author’s bias.

Have you read or are looking to read this book? Any other books on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict you would recommend? Please share!


How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas by David Bornstein

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

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6 thoughts on “From the Shelves: “The Lemon Tree” by Sandy Tolan

  1. After reading the first 100 pages I find this to be an intriguing read. However, as you mentioned, it is clear that Tolan has a Palestinian bias/more sympathetic leaning towards them. While he did tie the holocaust into the emmigration to Israel I feel that there was not enough written about how much the loss of 6 million of their people resulted in the push towards a Jewish state.

  2. Ooh, thanks for the review! I might have to check this one out if I ever have time to actually read for pleasure again. I’m a big fan of nonfiction, so this will be great. I’ve read some books about the Middle East, but most do not touch the Jewish-Muslim conflict. It’s a very real issue, and I think more people need to be aware of it. Shame about the author’s possible bias, though.

  3. Really wonderful review and honestly you may have the prettiest blog … in love with the soft pink and your wonderful use of fonts, having suddenly become obsessed with that art.

    And about that part of the world, those intricacies and tribal beats … Charles Glass, the former ABC News bureau chief, has a series of books and his website is truly important.

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