The Orange GroveLarry Tremblay
War takes no prisoners. It involves everyone – even children.
Twin brothers, Ahmed and Aziz, live in the peaceful shade of their family’s orange grove. But when a bomb kills the boys’ grandparents, they become pawns in their country’s civil war. Blood demands more blood and, at the command of a local militant group, either Ahmed or Aziz must strap on a belt of explosives and make the ultimate sacrifice.
Why Peirene chose to publish this book:
This story made me cry. Since the dawn of civilization we have justified war by claiming that we are creating a better future for our children. And yet don’t we run the risk of laying a curse on future generations? This story reminds us of our obligation to forgive – ourselves as well as others.
Written by Larry Tremblay.
Translated from the French by Sheila Fischman.
East and West series
160pp, paperback with flaps, £12
Larry Tremblay is a writer, theatre director and actor. He has written thirty books, including two previous novels, The Bicycle Eater and The Obese Christ; one short story collection, Piercing; and numerous volumes of poetry and plays. Tremblay has been short-listed three times for the Governor General’s Award and his writing has been translated into more than a dozen languages. He lives and works in Montreal.
Sheila Fischman has translated more than 150 Quebecois novels from French to English, including works by Anne Hébert, Gaétan Soucy, Jacques Poulin, André Major, Élise Turcotte, and Michel Tremblay. She has received awards for her translations and for her life’s work, including the Governor General’s Literary Award for Translation, the Columbia University Translation Center Award (twice), and, most recently, the Canada Council for the Arts Molson Prize.
‘A little jewel, finely chiseled.’ Elle
‘The Orange Grove is a thing of rare, awful beauty… a must-read.’ Mika Provata-Carlone, Bookanista
‘Larry Tremblay’s ability [is] not so much to weave a storyline as to unravel it with finesse and beauty.’ Toronto Sun
‘The combination of a bleak story with such effective, evocative imagery, makes it difficult for the reader of this novella, no matter the political leanings, not to be moved, if not by empathy, then regret.’ Nashwa Gowanlock, Arablit
‘Tremblay packs into a small number of pages the feelings of multitudes. It is one of the strongest arguments for peace that this reviewer has seen.’ Alison Burns, Bookoxygen
If Ahmed cried, Aziz cried too. If Aziz laughed, Ahmed laughed too. People would make fun of them, saying, ‘Later on they’ll marry each other.’
Their grandmother’s name was Shahina. With her bad eyes she always confused them. She would call them her two drops of water in the desert. ‘Stop holding hands,’ she would say. ‘I feel as if I’m seeing double.’ Or, ‘Some day there won’t be any more drops. There will be water, that’s all.’ She could have said, ‘One day there will be blood, that’s all.’
Ahmed and Aziz found their grandparents in the ruins of their house. Their grandmother’s skull had been smashed in by a beam. Their grandfather was lying in his bedroom, his body ripped apart by the bomb that had come from the side of the mountain where every evening the sun disappeared.
It had still been night when the bomb fell. But Shahina had been up already. Her body was found in the kitchen.
‘What was she doing in the kitchen in the middle of the night?’ asked Ahmed.
‘We’ll never know. Maybe she was baking a cake in secret,’ his mother replied.
‘Why in secret?’ asked Aziz.
‘Maybe for a surprise,’ Tamara suggested to her two sons, sweeping the air with her hand as if brushing away a fly.
Their grandmother used to talk to herself. In fact, she had liked to talk to everything around her. The boys had seen her ask questions of the flowers in the garden, argue with the stream that ran between their houses. She could spend hours bent over the water, whispering to it. Zahed had been ashamed to see his mother behave in this way. He had rebuked her for setting a bad example for her grandsons. ‘You act like a lunatic,’ he’d yelled. Shahina had bowed her head and closed her eyes, in silence.
One day Ahmed had told his grandmother, ‘There’s a voice in my head. It talks to itself. I can’t make it be quiet. It says strange things, as if someone else were hidden inside me, someone bigger than me.’
‘Tell me, Ahmed, tell me the strange things it says to you.’
‘I can’t tell you because I forget them right away.’
That had been a lie. He did not forget them.
Aziz had been to the big city once. His father, Zahed, rented a car. Hired a chauffeur. They left at dawn. Aziz watched the new landscape flit past the car window. Thought the space the car sliced through was beautiful. Thought the trees disappearing from sight beautiful. Thought the cows, horns smeared with red, beautiful, calm as big stones on the burning ground. The road was shaken by joy and anger. Aziz was writhing in pain. And smiling. His gaze drowned the landscape with tears. And the landscape was like the image of a country.
Zahed had said to his wife, ‘I’m taking him to the hospital in the big city.’
‘I will pray. Ahmed will pray,’ was Tamara’s simple reply.
When the driver announced that they were finally approaching the city, Aziz fainted and saw nothing of the splendours he’d heard about. He regained consciousness lying in a bed. In the room were other beds, with other children in them. He thought he was lying in all those beds. He thought the excessive pain had multiplied his body. He thought he was twisting in pain in all those beds with all those bodies. A doctor was leaning over him. Aziz smelled his spicy perfume. The doctor was smiling at Aziz. Even so, Aziz was afraid of the man.
‘Did you sleep well?’
Aziz said nothing. The doctor straightened up, his smile faded. He talked to Aziz’s father. Father and doctor left the big room. Zahed’s fists were clenched. He was breathing heavily.
A few days later, Aziz was feeling better. They gave him a thick liquid to drink. He took it morning and night. It was pink. He didn’t like the taste, but it relieved his pain. His father came to see him every day. Said he was staying with his cousin Kacir. That was all he said. Zahed looked at Aziz in silence, touched his brow. His hand was as hard as a branch. Once, Aziz woke with a start. His father was looking at him, sitting on a chair. His gaze frightened Aziz.
A little girl was in the bed next to Aziz’s. Her name was Naliffa. She told Aziz that her heart had not grown properly in her chest.
‘My heart grew upside down, you know. It’s pointed the wrong way.’
She said that to all the other children sleeping in the big hospital room. Naliffa talked to everybody. One night, Aziz screamed in his sleep. Naliffa was frightened. At daybreak, she told him what she’d seen.
‘Your eyes went white like balls of dough, you stood up on your bed and you waved your arms. I thought you were trying to scare me. I called to you. But your mind was no longer in your head. It had disappeared I don’t know where. The nurses came. They put a screen around your bed.’
‘I had a nightmare.’
‘Why are there nightmares? Do you know?’
‘I don’t know, Naliffa. Mama often says, “Only God knows.”’
‘Mama says the same thing: “Only God knows.” She also says, “It’s been that way since the dawn of time.” The dawn of time, Mama told me, is the first night of the world. It was so dark that the first ray of sunlight that broke through the night howled in pain.’
‘More likely it was the night that howled as it was being pierced.’
‘Maybe,’ said Naliffa, ‘maybe.’
A few days later, Zahed asked Aziz about the little girl who had been in the next bed. Aziz replied that her mother had come to get her because she was cured. His father lowered his head. He said nothing. After a long while, he raised his head again. He still didn’t say anything. Then he bent over his son. He placed a kiss on his brow. It was the first time he’d done that. Aziz had tears in his eyes. His father murmured, ‘Tomorrow, we’re going home too.’
Aziz left with his father and the same driver. He watched the road fly past in the rear-view mirror. His father was creating a strange silence, smoking in the car. He had brought dates and a cake. Before arriving at the house, Aziz asked his father if he was all better.
‘You won’t go back to the hospital again! Our prayers have been answered.’
Zahed placed his big hand on his son’s head. Aziz was happy. Three days later the bomb from the other side of the mountain split the night and killed his grandparents.
For Reading Groups
Some questions to inspire discussion:
1. Ahmed and Aziz are used as pawns in war and one of the boys is forced to strap on a belt of explosives to kill the enemies as well as sacrifice himself. Is this a believable story?
2. By telling the story of twins who are separated by a sacrificial death, does this book say anything new about war?
3. Ahmed and Aziz are told that whoever wears the explosives will become a martyr and go to Heaven. How is religion displayed in the book?
4. To what extent are the concepts of brotherhood and family valued or problematized in The Orange Grove?
5. How do you feel towards the parents of the twins? Is their behaviour understandable?
6. Can the suffering of war ever be portrayed accurately and appropriately in literature?
7. The setting of The Orange Grove is never disclosed. What might be the reason for refusing to name the location?
8. Deception is a prominent theme throughout the book. How does this inform the way we receive the characters and their actions?
9. Does the surviving twin find redemption at the end of the book?
10. Larry Tremblay is also a theatre director and actor. Can this experience be identified in the style and plot of The Orange Grove?
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