The Life of an Olive

D. Yael Bernhard
  • Review
By – March 27, 2017

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.

Discussion Questions