I am going to be honest, this was a bit of a random pick. I saw it in a second hand shop, the title and blurb sounded intriguing, so I just went for it. When I began reading it became clear that this was the story of an Afghan girl, fleeing her country with her family by travelling the Orient Express end to end. I found this in itself quite intriguing. It is rare to find writers on Middle Eastern issues that are not of that origin. McVeigh is in fact an Irishwoman, yet qualifies her ability to write about such things in a writer’s note – referencing her upbringing during the Irish Troubles, her work with charity projects and a need for writers to draw upon that which they do not know, to write most vividly.
Under the Almond Tree is the story of Samar, a young girl running away from the religious persecution and war in Afghanistan with her family aboard the Orient Express. Through the writing of the hardships of her life so far, Samar is able to come to terms with everything she has lost; her life, stability, and her home in Kabul – a little yellow house with an almond tree in the courtyard. I will not say anything else here, for fear of ruining the story.
Firstly, I would like to put out a warning for any would-be readers. This is not a happy book. It is unfathomably sad in many ways. If you are to read it, perhaps do not intend it as a light summer read or something to take to a sunny beach somewhere. I think that would be wrong. I have not heard of McVeigh,or any of her books before this one, but I would place Under the Almond Tree up there with Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner. Actually, I would probably say it was better. I cannot recommend this book enough, a very addictive read.