Thursday, January 23, 2014

"Writing Is About Rewriting"

Michelle Cohen Corasanti has a BA from Hebrew University in Jerusalem and an MA from Harvard University, both in Middle Eastern Studies. She also holds a law degree. A Jewish American, she has lived in France, Spain, Egypt and England and spent seven years living in Jerusalem. The Almond Tree is her first novel.

To read the full review of 'The Almond Tree', click here.

Congratulations Michelle on the success of your debut novel. ‘The Almond Tree’ is fetching rave reviews from all quarters, and it indeed was a pleasure reading it. Your words surely have won more than a million hearts with the sensitive portrayal of Palestinians in Israel and Gaza.

It would be a pleasure to know more about you, your writings, dreams and aspirations. In case you find any question offensive, you can chose to ignore them. I apologize in advance for such instances.

‘The Almond Tree’ is receiving praises from critics and readers, and has generated quite a buzz in the literary circle. In fact, it is even compared with Khaled Hosseini’s ‘The Kite Runner’, which as we all know, is a modern day classic. How does it feel to be part of such an adulation? Did you ever expect this overwhelming a response? 

It’s so humbling. I never expected this type of response.

How did the idea of ‘The Almond Tree’ come about? What prompted you to choose this plot as your debut? How was the entire process of writing and publishing this book?

I lived in Israel for seven years during high school and college. I wanted to do something to help end the needless suffering that I witnessed and bring about peace, but there was nothing to be done back then. I tried to put it behind me until I read The Kite Runner and my past clawed its way out.  There was a passage in The Kite Runner about how religion and history are basically impossible to overcome. That’s when I got the idea for my novel because I saw those obstacles overcome. I thought if a doctor could write The Kite Runner than I, a lawyer, trained in writing, could write a novel. It took seven years, six editors and twenty-one writing courses.  In fourteen months, my book is coming out in I think ten languages so far by some top publishers.

Tell us something about yourself and your family.

I come from a Jewish Zionist family in Upstate New York, but my husband is Italian American. We have thirteen year old twins.

Did you always want to be a writer? What instilled this passion of penning down thoughts and transforming them into stories?

I never wanted to be a writer. Ever since I lived in Israel, I wanted to do something to bring about change, but I didn't know how until I read The Kite Runner and realized a writer can reach into readers’ hearts and change them.

What are your hobbies besides writing?

Reading, travel, movies, biking and mountain climbing.

Are you working on any new projects? If yes, what are they about and when can we expect to read them?

I’m just completing my next book. I have written about Nora and Ahmed’s story from Nora’s point of view.

If you had the option of changing something about ‘The Almond Tree’, what would that be?

I've noticed a number of readers think that my protagonist is from the West Bank because he grows up under martial law. He is actually from inside of Israel, the 1949 armistice lines. Readers don’t know that the majority of Palestinians from inside Israel were ruled by Israeli martial law until 1966. My novel starts in 1955 and for the first 100 pages, until 1966 his village is under Israeli martial law.  Israel didn't occupy the West Bank until 1967 so he couldn't possibly be from the West Bank. This is very important because Israel treats different Palestinians under its control differently.

The Palestinians inside of Israel have Israeli citizenship, learn Hebrew, but there are over 30 laws that discriminate against them as well as an entire culture of discrimination. They are non-Jews in a Jewish state. The Palestinians from the West Bank still live under Israeli military rule.

For example, whereas The Almond Tree speaks of  Israel’s scholasticide policy in Gaza, Israel has taken a different approach toward the Palestinians from Israel.

The Koenig Report of 1976 reflected Israeli thoughts on their policy toward Palestinian Israelis. Koenig wanted the number of Arab intellectuals reduced, because their frustration is potentially dangerous. He wanted to encourage "the channeling of [Arab] students into technical professions, the physical and natural sciences. These studies leave less time for dabbling in nationalism and the dropout rate is higher." Koenig wanted to make it easier for Arabs to study abroad and harder for them to return and find jobs. Israel makes military service a prerequisite for many high level jobs in science and since the Palestinian Israelis don’t serve in the military, they find it difficult to obtain work in Israel. But since they have PhDs, they can find work abroad.

Who are your role models and your favourite authors?

I love Khaled Hosseini’s books.

What would you like to say to all your readers?

Thank you so much for your support. I hope that we can shine a light. Awareness leads to understanding and understanding leads to change.

What would your message be for all the aspiring readers eager to make a mark in the writing circle?

Never give up. Read like a writer your favorite authors.  See how they made you feel a certain way. Writing is about rewriting.

Thanks a lot Michelle for your valuable time. Wishing you all the best for your future endeavors.

This interview is in association with The Readers Cosmos Book Review Program. To get free books visit

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