The Lemon Tree is a brave book: it seeks to distill the essence of almost a century of Palestinian conflict into a 300-page of novelized nonfiction. In this, I think, it succeeds rather admirably, which is perhaps all I need to say about it.
Tolan centers this mix of history and narrative around two characters: Bashir, the son of a displaced Palestinian family, and Dalia, the daughter of Bulgarian Jews who inhabited Bashir’s former house in al-Ramla when the Arabs were driven out under the orders of Yitzhak Rabin. To be quite honest, I could do without this “personal touch,” because at time it approaches the maudlin–the last chapter, particular, is somewhat groan-worthy.
But Tolan’s history is quite good, and I commend him on what appears to me to be a balanced and straightforward look at the long conflict. I won’t summarize it here for you: either you know it already, or you should be reading the book. However, the depth of information, and the scope of Tolan’s history, is wonderful: it begins with Theodor Herzl’s original 19th-century Zionist movement, moves forward into the Balfour Declaration and the relatively peaceful influx of European Jews into Palestine, focuses especially on the post-Holocaust diaspora of European Jews which underscored the apparent necessity of a Jewish state, and then gets into the nitty-gritty of the grievous missteps that have seemed to plague the region ever since.
If nothing else, The Lemon Tree is an excellent primer on the vagaries of the Israel/Palestine conflict. I recommend it to any and all.