by Anaële & Delphine Hermans
“The idea came to us to make a comic that told the story of what [Anaële] experienced during the ten months we spent living so far from each other, from March to December 2008.”
Anaël and Delphine Hermans are sisters from Liège, an east Belgian city close to the Dutch and German borders. In 2008, Anaël, a writer, went to work for a voluntary aid programme in Palestine – dividing her free time between her Palestinian and Israeli friends – while Delphine, an artist, remained at home. The siblings, always close, exchanged newsy letters and postcards during their ten-month separation.
Aimed at the 13 to 16 age-group (I hardly ever read titles for young people then, flukily, two together) Green Almonds is a combined graphic-epistolary memoir, simply told, of family, friendship, love, mistrust, land confiscations, violence, imprisonment, armed soldiers, checkpoints and a wall of division running along the border and through parts of the Israeli occupied State of Palestine.
“Dear Nan, So, you made it? In reading your letter, I could picture everything. I tried to draw you there.”
From her apartment in Bethlehem, Anaële travels around the country, sometimes crossing the border to spend evenings relaxing with her Israeli companions, returning to experiences like visiting the overpopulated Dheisheh refugee camp and assisting with fruit picking. The book is a personal glimpse into a complex situation, seen through the eyes of a naive young woman who discovers a country, makes friends, falls in love and is confronted with the plight of the inhabitants. Her story is enriched by her sister’s uncomplicated and poignant drawings.
First published in France in 2011, then rereleased by Lion Forge in 2018, Green Almonds: Letters from Palestine received the Doctors Without Borders Award for best travel diary highlighting the living conditions of populations in precarious situations when it was first issued.
“…it’s hard to reconcile these funny, talkative Palestinian women with the women I meet in the street. Though this is clearly not my world, it’s charming, so welcoming, that I can’t help but enjoy it.”
Many thanks to Lion Forge for providing a review copy of this title.
Categories: Children's / YA Non-fiction, Translated Literature
It is clearly a time when many British people are thinking a lot about Palestine. I appreciate the way that you describe it as a complex situation. For many people, the debate is quite a simple one and one has sympathy with one side or the other. In the UK, there is now the issue of whether one can comment on the origins of the difficulties facing the Palestinians without being thrown out of the Labour Party for anti-Semitism. Americans might be surprised at the complexity of the new restriction on free speech. For me, it is neither the Israelis nor the Palestinians who are primarily to blame for the tragic situation. It was Lord Balfour, back in 1917, who made the tragic mistake of promising a homeland to people in an ambiguous note. This reminds one that British imperialism has caused many of the problems that haunt the postmodern world. Over a century after Balfour made his decision, campaigners are still having to think about what the entitled gentleman started. The only positive thing I can think of is that you can’t blame Jewish people for the highhanded incompetence of the British ruling class.
I couldn’t agree with you more, John. I went to Israel as a politically naïve teenager in the early 1980s and learned a lot about the problems on both sides. Israel was at war with Lebanon at the time, but it was still possible to enter Bethlehem without checkpoints in those days because it wasn’t then administered by the Palestinian Authority. I worked on a Kibbutz for several months in the northern region of Galilee, but travelled all over the country. I came to know several of the kibbutzniks quite well (all very kind and welcoming towards me considering the things we had done) – many of the older people I met were of Italian heritage and had been slung into prison camps by the British after WW2 as they attempted to reach Israel in boats, including those that had only recently been liberated from Nazi concentration camps. As I worked on a melon-rearing station I also came to know several Arab farm-hands from Nazareth (I could see the city in the hills from the fields in which I worked) and I learned very quickly that it was frowned upon by my hosts to become too friendly with them. Anyhow, to cut an exceedingly long story short, by the time I returned home, I had a very dim view of the way the British had handled things over there. We left a real mess behind and walked away from the situation as if we had played no part in it. What can now be done to remedy this grim situation, I don’t know, but we certainly bear some of the responsibility. [Steps off soapbox!]
Soapboxes suit you if you’ll accept a compliment. I think the way forward for Labour members is to keep a cool head and remember that other imperialist countries like France left behind similar messes in Algeria and elsewhere. Palestinians do seem to need external help and solidarity, though whether the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign is the best policy is a matter for individuals to consider. I’m very sorry to be so passionate about an issue with which you are so familiar.
Thank you. 🤣 Don’t be sorry, John – these issues matter a great deal. Thank goodness there are people like you who are passionate on the subject. This Labour row over anti-Semitism in the party has been quite damaging at a time when members need to work together. I really hope adopting the international definition will, eventually, help to calm matters down – but there are still people unhappy on both sides of the argument. This has and always will be a volatile subject but, as you say, cool heads are required now more than ever.
WOw….Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us in the comments! It’s definitely eye-opening….A lot to think about…
Many thanks for your comment, Jee.
This sounds fascinating and I like the look of the artwork. Did the formatting in the ARC improve for you?
Yes, it was definitely interesting to read something like this from the viewpoint of an ordinary young European woman. The problems with the ARC were mainly connected with the speech bubbles, in so much as the wording had migrated into the main text and become rather jumbled (leaving the speech bubbles empty). I was able to work around it but I did let the publishers know there was an issue with my copy. Thank you for asking. 😊
I had very little knowledge of the history, particularly post-WWII until I watched the TV Series “The” with the amazing Claire Foy. This series was based on interviews with many British soldiers who were in Israel at this time, men who had never spoken about this before. Thanks for the review.
I haven’t heard of the TV series but it sounds very interesting. Thank you.
“The Promise” that is. 🙂
I was waiting for this review, Paula! It’s lovely! Have you read Sadness is a White Bird by chance? Controversial, gritty book due to some of the issues described well in the comments above.
Thank you, Jennifer. No, I haven’t read Sadness is a White Bird but I” go and look it up in a mo. 🤗