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In 1988, eight-year-old Ramzi Hussein Aburedwan was photographed throwing rocks at Israeli soldiers in a refugee camp in the flashpoint city of Ramallah on the West Bank. The image became an iconic symbol of Palestinian resistance against Israeli occupation and in the years that followed Aburedwan saw his father and brother murdered (by fellow Palestinians) and little sign of political progress in the region.

But it also saw the young militant’s life utterly transformed by the unlikeliest of encounters – with a violin. against a backdrop of hardship and horror, Aburedwan decided to become a musician; a decision that saw him win scholarships to study in America and France, an invitation to join Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said’s cross-community West-Eastern Divan Orchestra and, most significantly, his own determination to start a music school in his battered and bruised home town.

The story of how Aburedwan changed his own life and began to help change those of countless other children is the subject of Sandy Tolan’s exhaustively researched Children of the Stone (footnotes alone spill out over more than 100 pages). It proves an inspiring tale of triumph over adversity, of hope amidst despair and of the power of music to cut through the artificial divides of politics to profoundly change lives.

It is a remarkable biography that Tolan relates with obvious compassion and diligence. Just as evident is his sometimes strained care not to favour one side of the political argument at the expense of the other. The disciplined attempt at fairness has its weakness – the weight of factual detail left wanting some form of analysis, something the author of The Lemon Tree, another tale of unexpected Palestinian-Israeli co-operation, and Hank and Me, a semi-autobiographical exploration of racism in the United States, is surely well equipped to offer.

It is clear where Tolan’s sympathies lie in Children of the Stone, and by the end of its 300-plus pages difficult not to share them. Readers will bring their own political perspectives to bear on a forensically assembled narrative set against the open wound of the West Bank. But at the book’s heart is a story of music’s astonishing ability to help and heal that is immensely persuasive and moving.

MICHAEL QUINN Read the full review on Agora Classica


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