Wednesday, 7 June 2017
The Orange Grove by Larry Tremblay
translated by Sheila Fischman
review by Maryom
Despite the war raging around them, nine year old twins, Ahmed and Aziz, live a comparatively peaceful life on their family's orange grove - a tranquil, green spot hard won from the surrounding bare landscape. Then a bomb strikes their grandparents' house, and the boys find themselves caught up in retaliation for the attack. The leader of a group of militants, an important, pious man, both respected and feared in the area, prevails upon their father to persuade one of the boys to become a suicide bomber. The impossible decision of which twin this will be, is one which will split the family.
Years later, grown up and living in Canada, the surviving twin finds the past hard to leave behind, and impossible to explain to people who've never experienced war. Is it possible for him to find a way forward?
The Orange Grove is a short, powerful, chilling story of lost innocence, and the long-term emotional repercussions that follow the 'martyrdom' of this young boy. In our peaceful Western world, we believe that children should be sheltered from the horrors of war, but for those caught up in it, there's no such a luxury - in fact, men, women and children have lost their worth as individuals and become mere objects and statistics. The militants' leader has no qualms about manipulating the father through fear and religion so that he daren't refuse the 'honour' granted to his son; one son believes the hype, that becoming a martyr will be a glorious act, resulting in the deaths of his enemies and rewarded in heaven; the other is more pragmatic and would rather live, but this is marked down as cowardice.
The Orange Grove is a disturbing, distressing read, dealing as it does with the forced recruitment of children into a war they don't understand,but one that I'd unreservedly recommend. By forcing the younger generation to take part in the escalating, reciprocated violence, the circle of war continues. While A attacks B, B strikes back, and A retaliates, there will always be one side calling for revenge on their attackers, and it feels like the conflict could never end. To break out of the destructive circle needs one side, or maybe just one person, to forgive.
This was an extremely thought-provoking read, even by Peirene's standards, and my original review draft contained a variety of rambling thoughts relating what I'd read to the recent events in Manchester and London. I've decided to delete them in the end, as they weren't really relevant in terms of a book review.
Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Peirene Press
Genre - Adult Literary Translated Fiction