‘It wasn’t even a proper diary…no dates or days or even 365 pages. But after this morning I’d be surprised to make it to the end of the week – so seven pages would be plenty. As we sat in the little courtyard listening to the gunfire in the streets below us, I started to write.’ In the summer of 2014 a black plague swept across Syria, a killer cult spreading misery and murder. Sitting in the shade of the Pomegranate Tree, we meet Dilvan, a young Kurdish girl. Through the pages of her diary, we follow her quest to find her family with a determination to fight, maybe even to die – but never to surrender.
The Pomegranate Tree by Vanessa Altin Review
War and Hope Through the Eyes of a Child
I would love to start this review by saying that this is ‘one of the most beautiful children’s books I have ever read.’ But to be authentic to myself and the book, I simply can’t write that. In truth I can honestly say that this has been one of the most harrowing, life changing books I have ever read and the ‘beautiful children’s book‘ accolade simply doesn’t come close to explaining the feelings it left me with.
The reality is, that after a mere 3 pages of this book, I had to stop reading and put it down just to find the tissues. That in itself is quite an accomplishment. Three pages in and you have your reader crying. An uncomfortable, painful ugly girl cry, not those pretty Hollywood rolling tears but big body heaving sobs. It was then that I realised this was a book that would never leave me.
The story, essentially, aims to explain the issues that surround the Syrian conflict to a younger generation. I was intrigued. How on earth was this author going to explain the pain and heartbreak of war to a young innocent westernised youth?
Vanessa Altin has more than just the accolade of Author on her accomplished CV. As a hardcore news journalist for 15 years and married to a Kurd, Vanessa is more qualified than most to tackle the heavy subject this book revolves around. Her personal experiences of working and living with the children of Syria left her feeling an urgent need to write the real stories of those who touched her life.
The opening chapter is an emotional one. It grips you by the heart and refuses to let go. From the very first page I was invested in the characters and the unraveling story. If you are expecting an easy children’s fairy tale, this is not the book for you. But as they say, you should never judge a book by its cover.
The Pomegranate Tree explores the life of the beautiful Divlan, a young Kurdish girl whose world has been ripped apart by the merciless killers who are travelling around Syria murdering innocent people. They do not discriminate – young children, women, babies and the elderly; the killings are brutal and graphic.
After witnessing her family torn apart at the seams by ‘The Ratmen”, Rehana, someone I can only describe as a living breathing guardian angel, encourages young Dilvan to write her story down. As she sits beneath the shade of The Pomegranate Tree, Divlan pours out what is left of her heart, the good the bad and ugly. Doing so almost gives her a sense of permission to feel closer to her missing family and allows her to pick apart her true feelings about the situation as she prays that one day she will be back in the arms of those she loves.
When I was first given the chance to review the book, I have to say that my expectations were simply not set high enough. I never expected to be so emotionally gripped by a book that is aimed at children more than half my age. But the story made me question so much more than I imagined. Do our children really understand what is going on in Syria at the moment? As a society we are numbed by the media? We are so used to seeing news reports about ISIS, but do our children really understand ? Do us adults even understand?
At a point in time where the refugees are on our TV screens every day and politicians are arguing over who has responsibility of them, have we once stopped to really think about what these poor people may have been through?
Most of the book is written in diary form which allows you to feel so much more of a connection with Divlan. You see and feel her fears, her emotions, and most of all her hopes. You are given an insight into her family that you would never get from a narrator’s point of view. The writing is so incredibly personal that you feel like you are meeting Divlan and walking through her life with her. You can smell and taste the air and dust and death that surrounds her. Plus the illustrations by Faye Moorhouse allow you to feel more connected. The childlike, simple but elegant drawings give the book a sense of innocence which makes the heartbreak all the more real.
Throughout the 200 hundred pages, the book does not lose pace once. Towards the end, as the tension rose, I found myself unable to put it down (yet scared to turn the page – the mark of a truly great author). The detail and emotion is soul destroying, but the eternal hope that Divlan possesses almost seeps into your bones. As she sits in The Pomegranate Tree you can feel the bark beneath your hands as you grip the edge of your seat.
Vanessa Altin has created a book that has touched parents to their very core at the same time as successfully teaching the younger generation about a topic that is so incredibly hard to approach. Still overall, the author leaves everyone feeling an enormous sense of hope.
As I put the finished book on my bedside table, I felt like I needed to wrap it in cotton wool and keep it safe for future generations. I felt like some kind of ceremony was needed to acknowledge the pain and emotional turmoil the book evoked in me. Instead, I am doing this. I am writing this to each and every person reading. This is not just a children’s book, it is a monumental book that is written to change people’s perception of a subject that is not talked about openly enough.
Forget what you see on the news, forget what you read in the papers. Read this book. Read it over and over again and understand that these are the true stories and the very real lives of people that touched Vanessa Altin’s life so much she felt compelled to write them into history.
You can read a little more about Vanessa, her motivations behind The Pomegranate Tree and her own experiences here.
To donate and help towards the Syrian Children’s Charity Heyva Sor please click here: https://www.justgiving.com/heyvasor
The Pomegranate Tree by Vanessa Altin is Published by Blanket Press