The characters in The Life of an Olive are an ever changing cast. Spanning centuries and millennia they include Ya’akov during the 70th year of the Common Era immediately after the destruction of Jerusalem, Gilah in the 77th year of the Common Era and Shimon in the year 100 CE. Tziporah during the year 132 CE flees as Roman soldiers set people’s homes on fire. In the year 370, James chops away the dead wood on the tree. In the year 630, Yemima rakes olives from the slender branches of the tree and her family makes oil from the fruit. In 1106, Miryam pickles olives with her mother but the salt needed is hard to come by because the invading Crusaders make going to market dangerous. In 1291, Yaqub climbs the olive tree and carves his name in the trunk. In 1570, Ester makes cakes from leftover olive fiber to dry in the sun. In 1948, David climbs the olive tree’s trunk to watch Palmach fighters with his binoculars. And in 2016, a multicultural group of workers including a Palestinian olive grower come together to join in the harvest. Page after page, the events portray change, but the setting in the Galilee and the focus on a humble plant remains constant. Repeated are the rhythms of the years and the harvest that utilizes the fruit that is a tasty snack and also produces a golden oil that is perfect for frying foods and lighting lamps. The story cleverly tells the history of the land of Israel with special focus on the Galilee with the olive as the reader’s guide. The underappreciated fruit has a key role in the cuisine and agriculture of the region. While people are the active characters in The Life of an Olive, the star is the plant and resiliency of nature. Time plays a key role as do the conflicts that motivate the characters to enter or exit the scene. The last harmonious scene offers hope for peace for the region. The images portray the landscape of the Galilee with down-home illustrations that appear to be rendered with colored pencils. The reader gets to know and appreciate the olive tree’s distinctively craggy and bumpy qualities. Appropriate for ages 8 – 13, bonus material in the front and the back of the book include the olive tree’s lifespan, glossary and facts about olives.
Dina Weinstein is a Richmond, Virginia-based writer.