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Yael Politis

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The Lonely Tree
by Yael Politis   

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Category: 

Historical Fiction

Publisher:  Holland Park Press ISBN-10:  1849230897 Type: 
Pages: 

444

Copyright:  February 2010 ISBN-13:  9781849230896
Fiction

Holland Park Press
Yael's books

In 1944 in British Mandate Palestine, Tonia's parents take the family to live on a struggling religious kibbutz in isolated Gush Etzion. Fifteen-year-old Tonia does not share her father's dream for a Jewish state, nor does she believe that one will ever come to be. Life on the kibbutz is harsh, and Tonia longs for security and a little comfort. She is determined to seek them in America, as soon as she is old enough to leave - even though that means turning her back on her love for Amos, a handsome young Yemenite who belongs to the Jewish underground.

The Lonely Tree by Yael Politis Has Been Chosen for a 2009 Book of the Year Award

The Lonely Tree by Yael Politis received a 2009 Book of the Year Award from YouWriteOn, the writers' site funded by the (London) Arts Council.

Edward Smith, manager of YouWriteOn, commented on The Lonely Tree, “The judging panel and YouWriteOn readers alike agreed that The Lonely Tree is a really great read, carrying the reader along with the unique and intelligent story ..."

The Lonely Tree was subsequently published by Holland Park Press of London and is available for sale only at www.hollandparkpress.co.uk
 

Much of this novel takes place in Kfar Etzion, during its establishment, siege, and fall to the Arab Legion. While the characters are fictional, historical events are accurately portrayed. This is one of a handful of English novels that take place in British Mandate Palestine and the only one that tells the story of Kfar Etzion.

A later part of the story takes place in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where Tonia tries to build a new life.

Several historical accounts have been written about the establishment of Kfar Etzion, its siege, fall to the Arab Legion, and the massacre that followed. This book is the only fictional presentation of these events. It is not, however, a history lesson, but a compelling character-driven love story, with no political agenda.

The Lonely Tree is only available for sale online at the publisher's site, www.hollandparkpress.co.uk

Excerpt
If there is a chance," Amos asked Tonia, "if there is a new road to the coast, will your mother go?"
"Yes," Tonia replied, convinced that in her present frame of mind her mother would do as told. And if not, Tonia would drag her.
Tonia's stomach growled. The Jewish authorities had gone house-to-house confiscating food, in a desperate search for supplies. Everything was rationed – each of the city's hungry residents received 200 grams of bread per day and a weekly ration of dried beans, peas, and groats.
Amos's concealed hoard survived the search, and he had brought Tonia and Leah a bag containing five large pita breads that Rachel had baked. The scent of them was driving Tonia mad, but she knew her mother would insist upon giving them to the children and pregnant women, just as Josef would have done.
"It may be possible," Amos said. "They're trying to make an alternate route into the city, one that doesn't have to pass under the guns at Latrun. They found an old goat route. So far, only jeeps have managed to get all the way over it, but they're paving it to make it passable to trucks."
Tonia stared at his mouth, as if that might help her understand what he was telling her.
"They started leveling the road up from the coast." He held his right hand slanted up. "And managed to reach partway down from Jerusalem." His left hand slanted down above it. "But there is still a gap of almost five kilometers in between that are impassable. The engineers and bulldozers are working on it, but the city can't wait. There's no food."
Tonia's stomach growled again, and they both grinned.
"So a few hundred people from Tel Aviv have volunteered to bring food to the city," Amos said. "They are going to climb up that stretch carrying sacks of supplies on their backs. And those volunteers are going to have to be taken back to Tel Aviv. If your mother will go, I don't see why a few hundred people can't become a few hundred and two."
He paused for a moment and then went on.
"It won't be easy for her. You'll have to walk the five kilometers in the dark, downhill. But you won't be alone."
"Are you coming?" Tonia asked.
"No. I meant you'll be with the other people from Tel Aviv."
"Oh." She tried to hide her disappointment. "We'll go," Tonia said. "I'll throw her over my shoulder if I have to. Thank you, Amos. Thank you." She touched his arm, and he shrugged off her gratitude.
"Be ready to leave tomorrow night," he said and left.

He came to pick them up in a rusty old car that hardly looked capable of rolling over a cliff, much less transporting them to an unpaved goat path. Tonia and Leah each carried a tiny bundle of their most precious belongings. Tonia's included her English dictionary and the white dress, rolled up in a towel. The car rasped and rattled through the empty streets, to the outskirts of Jerusalem. Outside the city, Tonia peered at the dark countryside. Every tree the headlights picked up looked like an Arab irregular, waiting to ambush them. Amos turned off the main road, and it seemed to Tonia that he had driven into the woods. Her head nearly hit the roof of the car as they bumped along. At last he stopped.
"We'll walk the rest of the way."
Amos took Leah's arm and led her over the rocky terrain. Tonia gaped at the sight to which he led them. A row of trucks had backed up to the crest of a wadi, waiting to receive the supplies being hauled up on mules, ox carts, and human backs. The volunteers from Tel Aviv were met part way by members of Jerusalem's Home Guard, who relieved them of their burdens, while they returned for the next load.
"Breakfast for your friends." Amos nodded toward the trucks and smiled.
He went to speak with one of the men loading the trucks. "You'll go back with the last group," he told them when he returned. "Meanwhile, why don't you sit here and rest." He led them to a group of boulders, then peeled off his own sweater and went to help haul supplies.
Tonia sat and felt guilty, knowing that if Rina were here she would have pitched in to help alongside Amos. But didn't she have to stay with her mother? The members of the Home Guard were men in their forties and fifties. They huffed and puffed as they stumbled up the steep incline. Tonia saw one white-haired man struggling with a large crate and hurried down the slope to help him.
"What you're doing is wonderful," she told him, as she took hold of one side of the crate.
"Each trip I carry enough food to keep one hundred Jews alive for another day," he said.
Unable to abandon the task once she had joined in, she found herself in the line of porters, Amos at her side.
"Don't wear yourself out," he warned her. "You might have to carry your mother on your back. She doesn't look too well."
"Oh, she'll be all right. She's a lot stronger than she looks."
"So are you."
She stumbled on a rock, and he caught her arm. There was a fleeting instant, as she regained her balance, when she almost turned toward him, settled into his arms, and poured out her feelings for him. But Tonia steadied herself, and they avoided each other's eyes. They walked side by side, and everything remained unsaid.
When the path narrowed, he fell in step behind her, and she was aware of him watching her walk in the moonlight. She wore khaki pants and a work shirt. Her feet were encased in heavy high-laced boots. Her hair was pulled back and clamped with a clip. Her only ornament was the silver chain and charm that he had given her, and it was hidden under her shirt. She never ceased to wonder that he seemed to find her attractive. Weren't men supposed to like women all dressed up and smelling good, nails lacquered and face painted?
They reached the loading point, and Tonia hefted a large sack onto her shoulders.
"It's too heavy," Amos protested. "You'll hurt yourself."
"I'm all right."
She strained under the load, gritted her teeth, and forced one foot in front of the other. She could do as well as Rina. Amos walked behind her. When they reached the waiting trucks for the last time, Amos signaled for Leah to join them.
"You'll walk down with the others, to Kfar Bilu," Amos told them. "There are buses waiting there."
"Thank you, Amos." Leah offered a delicate white hand. "You are always so kind to us. It's like having another son." Amos leaned forward to accept the kiss she planted on his cheek.
"Take care," he said and turned to walk away.
Leah poked her daughter in the ribs, and Tonia cried out "Amos!" and took a step forward.
"Yes?" He turned back
"I … I just wanted to say good-bye. And thank you … again." She couldn't look into his eyes.
"All right. Good-bye."
"Good-bye," she whispered.


Professional Reviews

Telling the story of Kfar Etzion through romance - The Jewish Tribune Toronto
by Atara Beck
TORONTO-PARDES HANNA Israel – The Lonely Tree, movingly written by rising author Yael Politis, is an important contribution to Jewish and Zionist literature. A work of fiction, it tells the history of Kfar Etzion – a kibbutz in the Etzion Bloc (Gush Etzion, in Hebrew) – in the Judean Hills, between Jerusalem and Hebron. Initially built in the 1920s, it was destroyed after Israel’s War of Independence and subsequently rebuilt after the land was liberated in 1967.
Because of its strategically important location, the area is also known as the southern gateway to Jerusalem.
After the Six Day War, the return to Gush Etzion (the Etzion Bloc) was led by many orphans whose fathers had been killed defending it two decades earlier.
The Gush, as it is commonly known, originally included four kibbutzim (communal settlements). Today it boasts 18 communities and a population of about 40,000. Replete with biblical history, it is considered by many to be, along with Jerusalem, the heart and soul of the Jewish state.
Not only did Politis create a captivating romantic tale, but she also succeeded in capturing the heart and soul of the Gush.
“When I came to live in Israel in 1973, one of the first places I lived was Kibbutz Ein Tzurim,” Politis told the Jewish Tribune. “The kibbutz was originally part of the Etzion Bloc…but after the fall of the Etzion Bloc, Ein Tzurim was re-established at its current location, between Ashkelon and Kiryat Malachi [in southern Israel]. Almost every home in Ein Tzurim had books, pictures, letters…regarding the siege and fall of the Etzion Bloc. Many of its members had been in the original kibbutz, taken part in the battles, and been released from captivity in Jordan. So this was how I came to be well-aqcuainted with the events there.
“Years later I began writing fiction,” she explained. “By that time I was living in Neve Dekalim in the Gush Katif bloc of settlements in the Gaza Strip. Neve Dekalim was very near the large Arab city of Khan Yunis, with which we once had friendly enough relations. I can remember taking my children there to buy shoes, a thought that is surreal today. But the first Intifada had begun and a Jew could no longer venture into Khan Yunis and expect to come back alive. I could hear the rioting there, but I felt safe knowing the IDF was there to protect us. That was when it really sunk in – how Israel’s pioneers had gone to live in places like Neve Dekalim, or Kfar Etzion, with no Israeli army to protect them – just some young kids with hardly any weapons and ammunition. I found it hard to imagine what that would have been like, and that was when I started thinking of trying to tell the story of Kfar Etzion. I didn’t want to write a history lesson, however, and so made the events in Kfar Etzion the backdrop for a love story.”
The characters in the novel – all passionate – reflect political diversity.
At one point, arguing the merits of founding a kibbutz in the Judean hills, with its tough living conditions and fallow land, Joseph declared: “Our forefathers lived mainly in the hill regions. Before the destruction of the Second Temple, there were three or four million Jews in Eretz Israel, most of them in the Judean Hills, Samaria and the hills of Galilee….
“Judea is the heart of Eretz Israel…. I don’t believe David and Solomon ever had the pleasure of a visit to Tel Aviv.”
According to Politis, Joseph is “an accurate reflection of the views of most of Israel’s pioneers. Whether or not they were observant Jews, they knew their Scriptures. His views regarding Judea and Samaria having been the heartland of the original kingdom of Israel are, of course, simple fact.”
Although there is no lack of history books, Politis believes there should be more fictional works and films to reach a wider audience. “There are many stories as compelling as that of Kfar Etzion, and I hope they will be told.”


Book Rabbit - The Lonely Tree reviewed by Ruth H
This is the story of Tonia Shulman, a young Jewish girl growing up on the Kfar Etzion Kibbutz,, in Jerusalem, British Mandate Palestine.

The story starts in 1946, and we meet Tonia, her brother and sister Rina and Natan, and her parents Leah and Josef. Her father is one of the men who helped found the kibbutz, and his passion for establishing a Labour Zionist movement means that he is often absent from family life. While the rest of the family will follow their father fairly willingly, Tonia dreams of escape to America, where she can have her own house and freedom from persecution. When Tonia meets Amos Amrani, they are instantly drawn to one another, but Amos is a member of an underground Jewish movement, which her father detests.

We follow Tonia throughout her life and witness her making some important and difficult decisions, and never letting go of her ambition to move to America. But even if she fulfils her dream, will it really make her happy? She truly wants to be with Amos, but will their moment ever come?

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Initially I wondered if it would be slightly hard going, but in fact I flew through it. I loved the character of Tonia, who was so determined and clever, and who loved her own family so much, but felt conflicted between what they wanted for her and what she wanted for herself. Yael Politis has created an entirely believable heroine, who I warmed to and grew to care for. I couldn’t always agree with some of the choices Tonia made, but in her position, who is to know what any of us would do? The rest of her family were all very well fleshed out; I particularly liked her mother and sister.

Amos was a complex character. He was intelligent and brave, and sometimes very arrogant, which almost made me dislike him at times. It was refreshing to see two people in a story who felt so much for each other, but yet realised that there were aspects of each other that they didn’t necessarily like. This is no ‘hearts and flowers’ love story, and it is all the better for it.

There is a section of the book which describes in vivid and painful detail the real life siege of the Kfar Etzion Kibbutz. The anguish and fear felt by the men left on the kibbutz to fight was so well depicted, and I found that part particularly moving.

The effects of the wars and turbulent time are felt by all, and the reader is privy not just to its effects on Tonia and Amos, but also their families.

The writing is very eloquent and the story flowed beautifully. The narrative is moving, with humour and pathos, and is also very informative about a specific part of Jewish history.

I would highly recommend this book.


Mother-Daughter Book Club - Review of The Lonely Tree
Tonia is single-minded in her desire to escape the hard life and insecurity on a kibbutz in Israel for the easy life she imagines waits for her in the United States. She even keeps a magazine photo of her ideal American home tacked up to her wall to remind herself of her dream.
Tonia’s parents had left their native Poland for Palestine in 1934 with their own dream of building a Jewish homeland. For years the family lived in cramped quarters with relatives while the dad, Joseph, worked to build a place they could all live together. Tonia’s brother and sister shared their parents’ dream, even as Tonia rejected it. But dark-eyed, dark-skinned Amos Amrani just may change Tonia’s mind about where she belongs.
The Lonely Tree by Yael Politis is a sweeping tale set against the Jewish settlement of Palestine and the establishment of a Jewish state. The settlers experience deprivation, are subject to attack, and find out about loved ones left behind to perish during the Holocaust.
Tonia is stubborn like her father, and she often butts heads with him. But only she can decide if she truly wants to follow her own ideal of a safe life in America or fight for the Israeli state her parents and so many of her friends believe in. This book is a great one for mother-daughter book clubs with girls aged 15 and older to choose, particularly if they are interested in historical fiction and more specifically the history of the modern state of Israel.
Discussion topics include developing a cultural identity, living with the threat of attack, finding out what’s most important in your life, and moral obligations to the ones we love.


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