Children of the Stone by Sandy Tolan (Bloomsbury, 2015)
It is an unlikely story. Ramzi Hussein Aburedwan, a child from a Palestinian refugee camp, confronts an occupying army, gets an education, masters an instrument, dreams of something much bigger than himself, and then, through his charisma and persistence, inspires scores of others to work with him to make that dream real. The dream: a school to transform the lives of thousands of children—as Ramzi’s life was transformed—through music.
Musicians from all over the world came to help. A violist left the London Symphony Orchestra, in part to work with Ramzi at his new school, Al Kamandjati. An aspiring British opera singer moved to the West Bank to teach voice lessons. Daniel Barenboim, the eminent Israeli conductor, invited Ramzi to join his West Eastern Divan Orchestra, which he founded with the late Palestinian intellectual, Edward Said. Since then the two have played together frequently. “Ramzi has transformed not only his life, his destiny, but that of many other people,” Barenboim said. “This is an extraordinary collection of children from all over Palestine that have all been inspired and opened to the beauty of life.”
Children of the Stone chronicles Ramzi’s journey—from stone thrower to music student to school founder—and shows how through his love of music he created something lasting and beautiful in a land torn by violence and war. This is a story about the power of music, first, but also about freedom and conflict, determination and vision. It’s a vivid portrait of life amid checkpoints and military occupation, a growing movement of nonviolent resistance, the prospects of musical collaboration across the Israeli–Palestinian divide, and the potential of music to help children everywhere see new possibilities for their lives.
Comments and review excerpts:
In a world where so much popular fiction depicts life in a dystopian world, it is refreshing to have this non-fiction account that reflects one individual’s belief in the power of music and culture to transform lives. Congratulations to Sandy Tolan for bringing us the story of Ramzi Hussein Aburedwan, his philosophy and his personal mission to make a difference. His story is proof of the famous words of Margaret Mead – “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Somewhere amidst the separation barriers and the countless checkpoints, the refugee camps and the demolished homes, the fruitless negotiations and endless conflict, there is a people yearning for a life of dignity and normalcy. You won’t see them on TV or in many newspapers. But you will find them in Children of the Stone, Sandy Tolan’s moving account of the dispossessed children of Palestine, and the transformative power that music has had in giving them meaning and reason for hope.
—Reza Aslan, author of No god but God and Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth
Children of the Stone is alive with compassion, hope and great inspiration. It is not necessary to believe in music’s power to defeat evil in order to be enchanted by this wonderful story.
—Tom Segev, Israeli historian and author of One Palestine, Complete and The Seventh Million
Sandy Tolan, author of the celebrated Lemon Tree, has produced another gem on what is happening under the surface in Palestine. This time the theme is the the liberating potential of music. The book contains enthralling biographical trajectories of ordinary people fighting against the odds, like Ramzi the violist, Suhail the musical composer, Mariam the singer, Alá the aspiring violin student, Suraida the activist, who use music as an instrument of resistance and survival under military rule. Written in the style of investigative journalism, the book is riveting and uplifting, without skirting issues of contestation and controversy.
—Salim Tamari, Professor of Sociology, Bir Zeit University (West Bank) and author of Year of the Locust: An Soldier’s Diary and the Erasure of Palestine’s Ottoman Past.
Sandy Tolan’s narrative artistry fuses the coming of age of a talented, ambitious, and fiercely dedicated musician with the story of Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories conquered in 1967. Ramzi Aburedwan’s music is powerful – even more so when we understand it as a form of resistance to occupation. Humanizing Ramzi and other Palestinians by portraying them primarily as musicians working in a universal idiom is a major contribution to our understanding of who they are and essential to a political resolution of the conflict.
—Joel Beinin, Professor of Middle East History, Stanford University
A resolute, heart-rending story of real change and possibility in the Palestinian-Israeli impasse.
Eye-opening…Tolan’s exhaustive research and journalistic attention to detail shine through every page of this sweeping chronicle.
The one I can’t put down…