10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Move over Bruce Bawer, you've got a novel companion to your eye-opening expose "While Europe Slept" (Broadway Books, 2006). Algierian author Boualem Sansal's 2008 novel "Le Village de L'Allemand ou Le Journal de Freres Schiller" has been translated into English and newly released as "The German Mujahid." The infiltration of European cities by militant Islamists, as chronicled in meticulous detail by Bawer, is now semi-fictionalized (the jacket tells us this story is based on a true one) and, therefore, becomes more immediately recognizable as a here-and-now threat to France, Western Europe, and the world.
Sansal, however, goes beyond the present--1996 that is--and sends Rachel Schiller, the 33 year old son of a Nazi war criminal, on a trek through Europe and North Africa as told through entries in his diary. Rachel is in search of an explanation for his father's horrific deeds and is desperate to reconcile this monster to the man he knew as a loving father and an Algerian freedom fighter. Rachel's teenage brother Malrich reads the diary and retraces his brother's journey, in search of his own peace of mind and also a need to escape the oppressive infiltration of his Parisian neighborhood by militant jihadists.
Two brothers, both in agony, move through two continents, one attempting to atone for the sins of his father, the other coming to grips with both the realities of the Holocaust and the increasingly violent stranglehold of Islamists working to build an Islamic nation in the suburbs of Paris.
Bawer notes that these discontented occupants of Parisian housing projects, veritable ghettos of North African immigrants, are "a looming challenge to twenty-first century European prosperity, stability, and democracy." Sansal, who's clearly knows his way around the 'hood, says, through Malrich, that "the estate has become unrecognisable. What was a Sensitive Urban Area, Category 1 has become a concentration camp." And in exploring the thin border between Nazism and Islamism, has placed himself, we may assume, in a rather precarious position in his native Algiers.
Malrich is consoled by his friend who advises him "It is mektoub, Malek, it is fate, we must accept it." Malrich answers "It's not mektoub, Mimed. It's us, we're the problem." Depressing? Oh yeah, most definitely. But Rachel reminds us that at every moment of our life, we have a choice. And Santayana, of course, told us "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
This is a must-read book. And pick up "While Europe Slept" while you're ordering.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
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Cheikh Hassan, formerly Hans Schiller, was a loyal Nazi, an SS officer, a war criminal, a fugitive, a weapons instructor to the Algerian mujahedin, a convert to Islam, a husband to a village girl, a father of two boys, finally a civil war victim.
The two sons had emigrated earlier to France. The elder one became a yuppi, the younger one remained on the dark side: failed school, tangled with the law, life in the settlement with other unemployed Algerian youths, among Islamic fundamentalists.
The elder brother (my namesake Helmut plus Rachid, contracted to Rachel) commits suicide. The younger one, Malek Ulrich = Malrich, reads the diaries and documents and catches fire: his brother had found out about the holocaust past of their father and could not take it. Malrich follows the trail.
The text is a mixture of diaries of both brothers. We learn a lot about France and its immigrants, about Germany and its past and present (and this all seems true to me, up to a point, while I can't be equally assertive about France and Algeria), about Algeria and its history.
The author is an Algerian living in France. The book was apparently banned in Algeria. The subject was taboo, it seems.
While the book is not well edited (too many printing errors), and the voices of the two narrators are not fully plausible, the book would deserve 5 stars for the sheer guts to attack this magnitude of 20th century history problems: the holocaust, the Algerian independence war, then the Algerian civil war. And we don't underestimate the dynamite in the French immigrant circles. (The story is set in the mid 90s; the book was published in 2008. We don't have a 9-11 situation, but we are in the global build-up.)
Young Malrich becomes an anti-fundamentalist activist. Is that plausible? I don't quite see the curve from realizing what his father did to taking a stance against his former jihad friends.
Rachel's suicide is also a rather unexplained act: he seemed a tower of sensible reason from his diary pages, initially. Then a neo-Nazi tells him, after he has acted plausibly in order to extract information: you are your father's son. Which is exactly what he had tried to convey, yet it rocks him. I ask you, is that plausible?
The author has not made the process of change plausible, not for either of the brothers. That is why I deduct a star.
I also find one potentially killing technical error in the plot: if I am not misunderstanding something, the neo-Nazi whom Rachel meets in the Alsace, a certain Adolphe, the son of Jean 92, who set up the Nazi fugitive network, says of himself that he was born in 42. Yet he talks about his collaboration in the post-war network as if he had been much involved.
I do not appreciate it if the details don't tally.
In other words, after a strong start, some disappointment sets in.
But it is well worth reading for historical context.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Keith A. Comess
- Published on Amazon.com
"The traditions of all dead generations weigh like a nightmare on the minds of the living" or so wrote Marx and so too do their sins. In this short but brilliant novel, Algerian novelist Boualem Sansal explores the effects of the discovery of a hidden past by the current generation. While there is absolutely nothing new and certainly nothing unique in this theme, two features distinguish this effort from others. First, as prominently highlighted on the book cover, this is the debut investigation and acknowledgment of the Holocaust by an Arab novelist, a genuine landmark. Second, while the author's style is hardly unique and is obviously indebted to its many predecessors, the writing is compelling and the story well-told.
Sansal's protagonist, Rachel Schiller is the elder of two sons of former SS Captain Hans Schiller, an expatriate hidden away in a remote traditional village located in pre-independence Algeria. Capt. Schiller distinguished himself in the guerrilla movement (the FLN, National Liberation Front) as a weapons instructor, gaining the titles "mujahid" and "sheikh". During the Islamist insurgency (which occurred in the 1990s in response to military intervention in election results), brutally but effectively suppressed by the Algerian military, Schiller and his Algerian wife were murdered, along with a score of townspeople by rampaging members of the Armed Islamic Group, a vicious Islamic fundamentalist movement, itself an offshoot of the fundamentalist, populist "Islamic Salvation Front". The urbane Rachel, highly placed employee of a French-based multinational business, travels to the small town of Ain Deb to investigate the matter himself. During the course of his examination of family effects, he discovers paperwork which clearly implicates his father in not only the SS, but one which suggests an intimate involvement in the extermination mechanism of the Nazi state. It turns out that Hans, a chemical engineer, probably turned his talents to developing, testing and supervising use of poison gas against Jews and other riff-raff who fell afoul of the Nazis and their diverse eugenic enterprises. Rachel, being unable to intellectualize or otherwise rationalize Hans' behavior, subsequent flight from justice and burial of responsibilities, begins a journey of self-realization and self-immolation, one which culminates in suicide and which reenacts the extermination routine used in the camps. His diary falls into the hands of the police (the politically correct but astute "Com'Dad") who turns it over to the slacker younger son, Malrich for didactic purposes. Malrich recognizes the linkage between the totalitarian tendencies of the Islamist movement operating in his "estate" (a French banlieu) and Nazism and makes discursive efforts to intervene. Whether he eventually undertakes meaningful acts based on his insights remains unclear.
Of course, the attraction of a novel is in the tale's telling as well as the story, itself. Here, for instance, is Malrich on the local "jihadis": "They looked funny in their old-world suicide-bomber getups, with their martyr's belts, their scruffy beards, their battered faces, their staring eyes, their all-terrain sandals, we liked the way they talked, like Allah's rap crew; the way they were always available, the way they were like superheroes fighting for the poor. There were only about a dozen of them, but there were hordes of us and we were all itching to be their right-hand men. We'd do anything, they only had to ask, they had Allah's ear, he was on their side." And here is Rachel's penultimate diary entry, written just before his suicide: "Chance decides whether one is here or there, protected or exposed, on the is side of the channel or that. I chose nothing, I chose to live a quiet, hardworking life and here I am before a scaffold that was not built for me. I am paying for another's crime. I want to save him, because he is my father, because he is a man." The more philosophically inclined Rachel is heavily indebted to Primo Levy, whose work figures prominently in this book. Malrich's notes, on the other hand, borrow from author Richard Price ("Freedomland", "Clockers", "The Wire", etc). Unlike Price's characters, however, Malrich swiftly arrives at the salient insight of this book, one which echoes an observation made by the great physicist, J. Robert Oppenheimer, made in another context at a much earlier time, but applicable to modern Islamism, nonetheless: "But perhaps only a malignant end can follow the systematic belief that all communities are one community; that all truth is one truth..."
So, is this a derivative work? Is it unoriginal? The answer to both questions is a qualified, "Yes", but that does not detract from compelling attractions of the book. For an exhaustive critique, I suggest Fouad Ajami's review in "The New Republic" (January 27, 2010 issue) which also provides a comprehensive discussion of "La Sale Guerre", the battle between the Algerian military and their Islamist antagonists, the immediate effect of which (the murder of the elder Schiller and his wife) ignite the story, but whose more wide-ranging implications are only hinted at in this book.
"We look on past ages with condescension, as a mere preparation for us..." wrote J.G. Farrell. However, more often than not, the past serves as a template for current behavior and its myths inform ideology. As Rachel and Malrich discover, its also true that people bury the past in order to repeat it.