Palestinian writer Hussein Barghouthi was in his late forties when he was diagnosed with lymphoma. He had feared it was HIV – so when the cancer diagnosis was confirmed, he left the hospital feeling a bitter joy because his wife and son would be spared. The bittersweetness of this reaction characterises the alternating moods of narration and reflection that distinguish this meditative memoir, Among the Almond Trees, translated from the Arabic by Ibrahim Muhawi, which has been announced as one of the five winners of the 2023 Palestine Book Awards.

Barghouthi’s way of dealing with finality is to return to memories of childhood in the village of his birth in central Palestine, where the house in which he grew up is surrounded by almond and fig orchards. He takes many healing walks in the moonlit shadows of the trees, where he observes curious foxes, dancing gazelles, a badger with an unearthly cry, a weasel, and a wild boar with its young – a return not only to the house but to nature itself. The author decides to build a house where he would live with his wife and son, in whom he sees a renewal of life. The realisation of his impending death also urges him to vocalise this experience, and he relates the progress of the disease at infrequent intervals. And, ultimately, he details the imaginative possibility of a return to life – to the earth, where he would be buried among the almond trees.

The other winners are:

The Palestine Book Awards began in 2012 to honour new books in English about any aspect of Palestine. This is an effort to bring Palestinian literature, research work, and poetry to audiences across continents, and give a platform for writers to meet audiences, discuss their work with other writers and academics, and be more widely known and appreciated.

This year’s jury comprised Nur Masalha (writer and historian), Ibrahim Darwish (journalist), Sawad Husain (translator), Afaf Jabiri (lecturer), Feras Abu Helal (researcher), Jalel Ouerghi (writer), and Ashjan Ajour (researcher).