Bitter Almonds by Lilas Taha
Published by Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing on January 19, 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Pages: 320 – hardcover & ebook
Format Read: Hardcover
Rating: 4 stars
Source: HBKU Press (BQFP)
Omar is an orphaned Palestinian born into chaos and compelled by forces beyond his control to find his place in the world. He only has one thing to hold onto: a love that drives him.
Nadia is young and idealistic. Her attempts to be oblivious to the bleak reality in Damascus are thwarted by her cowardly brother. Will she be able to break out of her traditional social mould to create her own destiny?
Heart-breaking and moving, Bitter Almonds is about displacement and exile, family duty and honour, and the universal feelings of love and loss.
*Many thanks to HBKU Press (formerly Bloomsbury Qatar Foundation Publishing) for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This in no way impacted my views.*
I could honestly say that this book totally surpassed any expectations I had for it. Not only did it keep me hooked from the very start, but it also managed to keep my attention until the very end. I haven’t had great experience with books about Arabs and their traditions, but this book was on a completely different level. It read more like a Western novel, which probably contributed to how much I enjoyed it.
First of all, as always, I’ll start with the characters. What I find really cool is the fact that there are so many of them, yet the reader can still manage to keep track of them because everyone is unique. Omar, Nadia, Shareef, Mama Subhia, Fatimah, Waleed… and so many more. They were dimensional and I really enjoyed reading about them. The dynamic they had with each other was realistic and didn’t clutter up the book with unnecessary interactions. The story is told in the POVs of Omar and Nadia, which made it really easy to assess their individual characteristics. The romance between them was extremely slow-burn and gave me heart palpitations because they were so cute! I love how this book takes place over the span of many years, showing us how the characters developedand grew (or declined) over time. For example, how Shareef grew from a spoiled kid to a cynical man, how Huda grew from a jealous kid to an independent woman, how Nadia grew from an innocent girl to mature adult, how Omar grew from a careless child to a responsible – yet burdened – man, and the events that led to them becoming this way.
This was definitely an emotion-laden book. It was… intense, to say the least. Page after page after page of betrayal and twists — I even had to put the book down every once in a while to take a breather! There were no parts that dragged; everything was a roller coaster of emotions. What make this scary, sad, and intense all at the same time is that the political events depicted in this book were real and affected tons of lives exactly like our characters’.
Also, the writing flowed smoothly and made it easy to read the book. It contributed to it being such a page-turner! The writing was articulate, and along with the author’s tone, really helped set the story. The atmosphere of this story can probably be described as tense, which helped keep me reading; I always needed to know what happens next. The pace was perfect, just like other aspects of this book.
Bitter Almonds taught me more about Arab traditions — actually more than I know, being an Arab myself. The ones I did know about were accurate too, so the author obviously knew what she was writing about.
All in all, I’d like to say that this book was filled with dimensional characters, an emotional plot, and fluent writing — it was near-perfect! Although it read like a Western-ish book, the Arab elements incorporated into it just really helped set the atmosphere. I’m very surprised this book doesn’t have that many reviews because I’d definitely recommend this as a read to a wide audience range!
Rating: 4 fish