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.