Monday, April 1, 2013

Interview: Michele Cohen Corasanti

Today I'm welcoming Michelle Cohen Corasanti to The Edible Bookshelf. She is here to talk about her new book, The Almond Tree.

1.       What was your inspiration for this book?

I wrote The Almond Tree because I realized that a writer can reach into readers’ hearts and change them forever. I was raised in a Zionist home where German cars
were boycotted and Israeli bonds were plentiful. I went to Israel, for ONE summer, during my high school years with our rabbi’s daughter to study Hebrew, but ended up staying  for 7 years. 

Whilst there I learned that everything I had been taught about Israel was a lie. Prior to living there, I though that Palestine and Israel were synonomous.  I wrote this book to show that there is a better way. I saw a glimmer of hope when, during my time at Harvard University, I witnessed a Palestinian scientist with an Israeli colleague working together to advance humanity, and this gave me the inspiration for the book

2. Would you classify your writing as plot driven or character driven?

The Almond Tree is mainly plot driven. It is the story of a little boy who is born into a brutal world and against all odds goes on to achieve what other men have only dreamed. The plot, although largely a vehicle for an instructive allegory, was there to keep the carry the readers through both stories i.e. the fiction and the exposition.

Of course the characters were also very important on both levels; Ichmad’s brother had to be how he was in order to represent the exponents of the type of reasoning responsible for people taking the wrong path, and its ultimate consequences.

3. Can you tell us a little about your main character?
We meet the Palestinian Muslim protagonist when he is seven years old on the day his innocence ends, and we follow him over the next fifty-five years. He grows up in a rural, impoverished village in the Triangle which is inside of Israel under Israeli military government. He goes on to achieve equality in Israel, and international recognition.

4. Which of your supporting characters was the most challenging to write?

Writing Nora, the Jewish American peace activist, was a major challenge. With hindsight, I can see that I tried to make her into everything I wished I had been, but failed to be. No one likes a perfect character, but I was unable to give her any flaws, so I had to find the most selfless and heroic ending I could for her.

5. Without giving away too much, tell us a little about the main conflict in this book. 
Ichmad Hamid is born into an impoverished, Israeli military ruled village. His father is imprisoned, his mother illiterate, and he must support his mother and 8 siblings. He promised his father that he would make something of his life and he is determined to do whatever it takes to achieve that goal.

6. Why did you choose this genre?

I wanted to help bring about social change. I wanted to attract the largest audience possible. With fiction I was able to hit on as many universal themes as possible, and create a gripping story. I chose this genre because I wanted to shine a light so bright the whole world could see, and in order to do that I had to create an amazing story that would pull the reader in and not let him go until the end.

7. What do you hope readers take away from this book?

I hope readers will realize that we should celebrate differences but also focus on our commonalities to advance humanity, and that no one is free until we all are free. We can’t be bystanders to human suffering. Peace is possible, and we must all do whatever it takes to achieve a just peace.

8. Who are your favorite authors?

I think it would be easier for me to name my favourite book because I don’t always like all an author’s books.

My Favourite Books are:

The Kite Runner,
Mudbound, Night,
Kane and Able,
The Reluctant Fundamentalist,
The Invisible Bridge,
A Thousand Splendid Suns,
Open, Happens Every day,
White Tiger,
Sarah’s Key,
The Lovely Bones,
Those Who Save Us,
Amongst others which I won’t remember until this interview goes online, and it’ll  be too late.

9. Do you have any interesting rituals or habits when you write?
During my lazy hazy days as a student, which I managed to spin that out for 10 glorious years, I got into the habit of writing essays in bed, so as to avoid leaving what Bill Hicks called his second womb. I’m currently propped up against my comfy pillows typing the answers to your questions. That’s my ritual, I do most of my work in bed.

10. Can you tell us about any future projects?

Guillermo Fesser, a Spanish TV and Radio celebrity has formed The Almond Tree Project to shine a light, and show that peace is not only possible, but realistically achievable.  

We will be doing events throughout the world, and at every event Guillermo will interview me and there will be great singers and speakers participating as well. Our first event is April 23 in my hometown of Utica in New York.

The Almond Tree is available now from Amazon.  
                                                  In Celebration of its 85th Anniversary The Stanley Presents
                                                                            The Almond Tree Project
                                                                             Tuesday, April 23, 2013
                                                                              The Stanley, Utica NY
Native Utican, Michelle Cohen Corasanti, who lived in Israel for seven years and has an undergraduate degree from HebrewUniversity, and graduate degree from Harvard in Middle Eastern Studies has written a novel called The Almond Tree, which has become an international bestseller. Even though this is her first book, she’s already distinguished herself enough to have upcoming speaking engagements at the  Florida International Book Club, The Women’s Alliance and most prestigiously of all, the UN Commission for the Gulf Coast to name but a few.
This has been put together to celebrate the positive effects that The Almond Tree book is having around the world. In the book, its author, Michelle Cohen Corasanti, discovers what to her had been an unknown world, and through it, projects a perspective conveying hope. In her narrative, Michelle gives voice to the Palestinian people without apportioning blame, or promoting hatred.
In highlighting their struggle, she hopes to promote a dialogue which will bring about peace in the region. Despite being a Jewish American woman, she does a brilliant job of writing from the point of view of a Muslim Palestinian male. This was, as one can easily imagine, a struggle for her, and her success in doing so is a testament to her writing skills. If we all had her capacity for empathy, would there be any more wars?
The book, which is based  on her real-life observations, proposes that we examine this wonderful part of the world by putting ourselves in the shoes of its denizens.
Guillermo Fesser; one of the bright lights of  Spanish TV and Radio, has interviewed everyone from Jack Nicholson to the King of Jordan; is responsible for putting together The Almond Tree Project, which is so-named in honour of the book , will be interviewing Michelle at the event.  Also involved in The Almond Tree project is David Broza who is one of the greatest Israeli singers, songwriters and musicians of all time. He will be singing the Almond Tree song that was inspired by Michelle’s book along with other songs.
The night will also include Israeli peace activist Miko Peled. His grandfather signed the Israeli declaration of independence, his father was a general in the Israeli army during the ’48 and ’67 conflicts, and his beloved niece was killed by 2 suicide bombers as she shopped for school supplies.  He is the author of The General’s Son and would also like to show a better way.  To round the evening of, we will have Palestinian superstar singer, songwriter and musician Mira Awad.
6:00 PM: Special lecture by Peace Activist and author of The General’s Son, Miko Peled- Tickets: $10

7:30 PM: The Almond Tree Project: Tickets: $10, $20, and $40, Students: $8;  Group Pricing Available

The Stanley Box Office 259 Genesee Street, Utica

All Proceeds to Benefit The Stanley
For more information, please visit