Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Orange Grove by Larry Tremblay

The Orange Grove is an exploration into the ideology of terrorism and its consequences. The novel opens with the bombing of nine year old twins, Amed and Aziz's home in an unnamed country. The bomb which came from the other side of the mountains where their long time enemies live, destroyed their grandparents home. Their father Zahed's parents, Mounir and Shahina were killed when the bomb roared through the side of their house. The bombing happened three days after Aziz had returned home from the city with his father. Zahed had taken his son Aziz who was very sick to the hospital.Aziz stayed for

Amed and Aziz's mother Tamara has a sister, Dalimah who lives in America and who is married to a man from the other side of the mountain. Because the people on the other side of the mountain are their enemies and they have been at war with them, Zahed and Tamara do not trust Dalimah. On the day Zahed and Aziz returned home from the hospital, Tamara received a letter from Dalimah encouraging her to come to America with the twins. Tamara of course has no intention of going to America and she considers her sister's husband to be a liar who has told terrible things about them to the people in America.

Zahed had just finished burying his parents in the orange grove when a jeep with three men arrived. One is Halim whom Amed and Aziz know from the village school and his father Kamal but the other man with a machine gun is unknown. Amed and Aziz are sent to their room while Zahed and Tamara speak with the men. The next day Zahed tells Amed and Aziz that the man with the machine gun is Soulayed. He is from a neighbouring village and is well educated. The boy's father tells them that Soulayed wanted to see the ruins of their grandparent's home. Soulayed also informs Zahed that homes in nearby villages have been destroyed and that these attacks are merely the prelude to invading their country and enslaving their children. Zahed shows the boys the canvas belt Soulayed left behind but offers no explanation as to what it is.

A week after the bombing, Zahed calls Amed and Aziz into the orange grove where he spends "twelve hours a day pruning, watering and checking every tree." Tamara refuses to come. She has acknowledged the hatred that exists among the men of her country and asks that God not take both her sons. Zahed tells his sons that Halim is going to die. He has gone to the south to blow himself up with a belt of explosives. Zahed then relates what Soulayed has told him: that his sons have found a way to reach the other side of the mountain that borders their land in the north and which separates them from their enemies. Soulayed knows this from Halim who was told by Aziz and Amed. When Zahed asks if this is true Amed and Aziz say nothing. Zahed lets his sons know that Soulayed will return to speak with them soon.

Soulayed returns to the orange grove and takes the twins in his jeep to the base of the mountain where he tells them what Halim has told him. The boys were flying their kite near the mountain which they were not allowed to do when the string broke and the kite vanished over the other side. To retrieve the kite they climbed the mountain. Amed tells Soulayed that they had to retrieve the kite otherwise their father would have been angry as the kite was a gift from their grandfather. The boys found "a ghost of a road snaking through the rocks" and followed it to the top where they saw "a strange kind of town" on the other side. Soulayed tells them what they saw was a military installation and that it was God who broke the kite's string and led them to see this. However Amed tells Soulayed that he only told Halim that their kite had flown near the mountain.

Soulayed continues to impress upon the boys that because the area around the mountain and the path are mined, "God broke your kite string and God guided your steps on the mountain." He tells them that others have tried to get to the town but have been blown up. As a result Soulayed has decided that one of the brothers will return to the town in a few days wearing a belt of explosives to destroy the installation.

The boys return home wondering which of them will be chosen by their father to wear the belt and in the meantime they play at blowing themselves up in the orange grove. Zahed tells Tamara that he has decided that it be Amed who will wear the explosives belt. Zahed reasons that since Aziz will die because of his cancer "it will not be a sacrifice if he wore the belt." Tamara is filled with pain and she concocts a plan to thwart Zahed sacrificing their healthy son, Amed. That night she awakens Amed and reveals to him that his father will choose him to wear the canvas belt to avenge his parents' deaths. She tells Amed that Aziz is very ill and will die from his illness. So she asks Amed to persuade Aziz to take his place and wear the belt. Tamara does not want to loose both her sons, one to illness and one to being blown to bits. However, Amed refuses, despite his mother's assertion that Aziz will suffer greatly from his sickness. The next day Zahed takes Amed to the tool shed where he tells him that Soulayed will return in a few days and take him to the foot of the mountain. He will wear the belt. Zahed also tells Amed that he has chosen him because Aziz is very sick. He encourages his son to love the belt and to get used to wearing it.

After Zahed leaves, Aziz enters the shed and Amed admits to his brother that he is scared to die. Aziz offers to go in his place, but at first Amed refuses. When they return to the house, Amed tells his mother he has done as she asks. Tamara's plan, although saving the life of one son, will bring about tragic and unforeseen consequences.


The Orange Grove presents the twisted logic that is characteristic of terrorism, radical ideologies and war. Author Larry Tremblay is careful never to identify the religious sect that Zahed and Tamara and their family belong to or to name the country they live in. Instead he uses beliefs that are common to many religions but which are taken to extreme.

Zahed and his wife Tamara and their twin sons, Amed and Aziz live in a country that is at war with a neighbouring country on the other side of the mountain. A bomb from that country destroys Zahed's parent's home, killing them. They are visited soon after by a soldier, Soulayed from another village who manipulates Zahed into sacrificing one of his sons so as to avenge the killing of his parents. To help with this, Soulayed brings fifteen-year-old Halim and his father, Kamal with him to speak with Zahed. Kamal first praises Zahed telling him his father, Mounir must have been "in harmony with God" to be able to grow the orange grove out of the desert. He also notes that Zahed is twice blessed with twin boys. He tells Zahed he was angry at Halim's decision to become a suicide bomber but after having seen the destruction of Zahed's parent's home he now understands Halim's choice. Soulayed tells Zahed, "Revenge is the name of your grief."

To impress his sons, Zahed tells them that Soulayed is "an important man" who "talked to me with his heart" and that "He's a pious man. An educated man." In other words, he is a man to be respected and whose words are important. In order to convince Amed and Aziz of what he is about to ask them, Soulayed tells them that their kite breaking was an act of God. "He broke it so that things would come to pass as they must." Soulayed states "...God broke your kite's string and now it's their own death they're warehousing." He also informs them that their climbing the mountain was miraculous especially since no one else has been able to climb this mountain because it is mined. "A miracle: that's what really happened on that day. God broke your kite string and God guided your steps on the mountain." After informing them that they have been chosen to wear the belt of explosives Soulayed states, "God has chosen you. God has blessed you."

Later on Soulayed comes to the farm bringing money for Zahed and he tells Amed, "You know, Amed, what's going to happen is both sad and happy. You understand, right? But you, you must be only happy. You're going to die a martyr. You are three times blessed." The night before Amed is to leave for the mountain, Zahed invites his neighbours and two employees to his house to celebrate, explaining that Amed will soon be a martyr. "All saw this invitation as an honour being bestowed upon them."

But despite all of his indoctrination, Amed is terrified. But Soulayed admonishes him, "...Think of our enemies! Think of what they did to your grandparents!" He is told not to dishonour his father and to "Think of Paradise!" Tamara is the only one who sees war for what it truly is. She recognizes that for the men of her country, "It's hatred that keeps their bones in place. Without hatred they would collapse and never get up again." In an attempt to save at least one of her sons, she convinces Amed to switch places with Aziz. Aziz will be the bomber because he's going to die from cancer anyways. She recognizes what she's asking Amed to do is horrible. "What's the use of bringing children into the world it it's just to sacrifice them like poor animals being sent to the slaughterhouse?" When the neighbours come to celebrate before Amed leaves, Tamara sees the garland of lights as a "sacrilege, a miserable lie."

Tremblay portrays the realities of war, the lies created to perpetuate the cycle of violence, the devastation wreaked on families and individuals and the dehumanizing of the enemy in a way that is profoundly moving. In the aftermath of the suicide bombing the reader truly experiences the pain and guilt of Amed and the sense of loss from the death of his twin brother and the estrangement of his family.

The novel is divided into three parts, "Amed" which tells the story of his switch with Aziz, "Aziz" which tells the story of Amed's life as a twenty year old and his struggle to come to terms with what happened after Aziz accomplished his mission as a suicide bomber, and "Sony" which relates Mikael's play and how Amed comes to participate in it.

Mikael has written a play about war for his theatre students, among them a man named Aziz (this is Amed who was sent to live with Damilah in America when the truth of his identity became known). In the play a soldier has brutally murdered a young boy's parents. However, the soldier is unable to kill the boy named Sony, because he reminds him of his own young son. So he demands the boy explain why he should spare him. It is Mikael's intention that the child die to demonstrate the cruelty of war.  Aziz has the part of Sony but he tells Mikael he cannot play this character. Aziz tells his story to Mikael, that his name is really Amed, how he switched places with his sick twin brother who was sent to bomb a military installation. After the bombing, Amed begins to live life as Aziz but he discovers he cannot live this lie and he becomes so sick his parents take him to the hospital. Eventually the truth is discovered when Amed reveals it to the family during a party celebrating Aziz's supposed miraculous cure from cancer. He tells Mikael that when Soulayed spoke, Amed looked into Soulayed's mouth and realized he saw nothing but lies. When Amed's true identity was discovered, he was sent to America where he learned the truth - that his brother was sent to a school where he blew up dozens of innocent children and maimed many others. Even though Mikael tries to comfort Amed by telling him that his brother did not understand what was going on, Amed feels this does not change the fact that his beloved twin brother murdered innocent children. Amed tries to explain to Mikael that war wipes away the boundaries between adults and children; children can be brave or they can be cowards, they can do heroic things or they can murder others, even other children. War affects everyone, adults and even children.

Mikael has prided himself on writing a play that he feels explains war. However, Amed/Aziz's narrative makes him realize that he does not understand war. He asks Aziz to use his story to convince the soldier in the play but Aziz cannot do this because it's not fair and not accurate. In the end Aziz returns to the stage, which Mikael describes as "the great gaping stage mouth with its potential for lies and truth." Aziz stands before the soldier and tells him he is seven-year-old Sony, and nine-year-old Aziz and twenty-year-old Amed. He doesn't need to tell the soldier a story to convince him not to kill Sony. The reason for not killing the boy must come from within the soldier.

"No, you don't need to have a reason or even to have right on your side to do what you think you must do. Don't look elsewhere for what is already within you."

Book Details:

The Orange Grove by Larry Tremblay
Windsor: Biblioasis 2015
pp. 157

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