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The Attack: Novel [Hardcover]

Yasmina Khadra
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 9 2006
Dr. Amin Jaafari, an Arab-Israeli citizen, is a surgeon at a hospital in Tel Aviv. Dedicated to his work, respected and admired by his colleagues and community, he represents integration at its most successful. He has learned to live with the violence and chaos that plague his city, and on the night of a deadly bombing in a local restaurant, he works tirelessly to help the shocked and shattered patients brought to the emergency room. But this night of turmoil and death takes a horrifyingly personal turn. His wife’s body is found among the dead, with massive injuries, the police coldly announce, typical of those found on the bodies of fundamentalist suicide bombers. As evidence mounts that his wife, Sihem, was responsible for the catastrophic bombing, Dr. Jaafari is torn between cherished memories of their years together and the inescapable realization that the beautiful, intelligent, thoroughly modern woman he loved had a life far removed from the comfortable, assimilated existence they shared.

From the graphic, beautifully rendered description of the bombing that opens the novel to the searing conclusion, The Attack portrays the reality of terrorism and its incalculable spiritual costs. Intense and humane, devoid of political bias, hatred, and polemics, it probes deep inside the Muslim world and gives readers a profound understanding of what seems impossible to understand.

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From Publishers Weekly

Khadra, the pseudonym of Mohammed Moulessehoul, an exiled Algerian writer celebrated for his politically themed fiction (The Swallows of Kabul), turns his attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in this moving novel unlikely to satisfy partisans on either side of the issue. Dr. Amin Jaafari is a man caught between two worlds; he's a Bedouin Arab surgeon struggling to integrate himself into Israeli society. The balancing act becomes impossible when the terrorist responsible for a suicide bombing that claims 20 lives, including many children, is identified as Jaafari's wife by the Israeli police. Jaafari's disbelief that his secular, loving spouse committed the atrocity is overcome when he receives a letter from her posthumously. In an effort to make sense of her decision, Jaafari plunges into the Palestinian territories to discover the forces that recruited her. Khadra, who nicely captures his hero's turmoil in trying to come to terms with the endless violence, closes on an appropriately grim note. (May)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

A rocket attack opens and closes the new book by Algerian army-officer-turned-novelist Mohammed Moulessehoul, who retains the feminine pseudonym he initially used to sidestep censorship before he moved to France. The attack parenthesizes the first-person, present-tense account of a Palestinian surgeon who, after hours of emergency duty saving the lives of a suicide bombing's gravely injured survivors, is wrenched out of much-needed sleep and told that his wife was the bomber. Horrified, he furiously asserts that she was incapable of the atrocity. But the evidence of her exploded corpse, which he identifies, is incontrovertible. Immediately, he plummets into despondency for days. Then, pulling himself together, he undertakes an investigation into what he perceives as her betrayal of him. The Attack is a detective story sans detective, suffused with raging grief over what sectarian violence has made of the Islamic world. Although powerful and engrossing, bursts of boilerplate indignation and see-it-a-mile-away climaxes make it a lesser achievement than Khadra's Afghanistan novel, The Swallows of Kabul (2004). Ray Olson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars July 4 2014
By Louise
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Excellent, could not put it down
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4.0 out of 5 stars A page turner May 14 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I could not put this book down. It kept my interest from beginning to end. Everyone in our book club thought the same.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Gripping! Sept. 26 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book was recommended to me by a friend who had read it in its original French. She was right in saying "you won't be able to put it down" and I couldn't! It certainly gives you the other side of the picture.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Attack June 4 2007
Format:Audio CD
From the start the book will entrance you and leave you on the edge. It has a way of keeping the reader intrigued, most likely because it's a different perspective than we are normally used to. We see how the protagonist, an Arab living in Israel, is both subject to prejudice from the Jewish population in Israel for being Arab and the Islamic population in Israel for not being a devout Muslim. The book is particularly intriguing because the main underlying theme is how we watch the protagonist's life spiral downwards, and his lust for retribution results in masochistic ventures. Finally, it intrigues us how when he speaks of his wife and recounts the time he spent with her, she seemed like a perfectly happy and normal person, but she does something that makes the protagonist wonder what he did wrong.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  117 reviews
60 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Provocative. Jarring. Important read. Sept. 17 2007
By William Capodanno - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book shook me to the core. It is the story of Dr. Amin Jafaari, a well-respected and successful surgeon in a Tel Aviv hospital who also happens to be an Israeli-Arab. The book opens with a devastating suicide attack in Tel Aviv. Amin's hospital is immediately mobilized and he "goes into action" trying to save innocent victims from the terrorist attack that ultimately claims 17 lives. As Amin heads home to recover from his exhaustion, he expects to find comfort from his wife Sihem. He is surprised and puzzled to find the house empty and Sihem yet to return from a three-day visit to her relatives near Nazareth.

Amin is awakened by a phone call five hours later, still disoriented from a lack of sleep, and called back to the hospital by his detective friend, Navid with still no idea about the reality about to confront him -- Sihem is suspected of being the suicide bomber.

The book is a remarkable story about Amin's attempt to come to grips with the incomprehensibility of the situation now confronting him. Was his wife really capable of such an "evil" act? If she was, could he have been "blind" to this? How could he have not been aware of what drove her to make such a choice? Did she betray him in any other ways?

While such a personal journey could provide for compelling reading, in Khadra's hand, the broader context of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict provides an even more provocative, timely and reflective book. Khadra doesn't impose answers on the readers. What he does do is reflect remarkably vivid portrait of the fear, destruction, stereotypes and complexity of the reality facing individuals on all sides of the conflict.

This book makes you think about the reality of the situation in the multi-dimensional and complex way the situation deserves, not in the black and white, one dimensional sound bites that generally surround us. For me, the most powerful moment in the book was Amin's reflection on something his father told him when he was a child "There's nothing, absolutely nothing, more important than your life. And your life isn't more important than other people's lives." Too bad, this couldn't be at the core of more people on all sides of this conflict.
31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "When horror strikes, the heart is always its first target." May 12 2006
By Luan Gaines - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The novel begins in Tel Aviv with a rocket attack, the mayhem and chaos immediate and devastating, the street littered with the wounded and dying, the story segueing into the life of Dr. Amin Jaafari, a surgeon at a Tel Aviv hospital who dedicates his days to healing, basking in a contented marriage to the beautiful Sihem. As a suicide bomb explodes not far away, the doctor works long into the night to save the victims, returning to a silent house, belatedly remembering that his wife is due to return that evening after visiting her grandmother. By morning, Sihem has not returned, but Amin is unfazed, imagining she has just extended her stay. Later, at the hospital, the doctor is approached by the Israeli police, required to identify a body, that of the suicide bomber, who, to they have determined, is his wife, all but her lovely face destroyed by the explosion.

His mind shattered by this revelation, Amin returns home with the police, who dismantle his home and question him exhaustively to determine his possible involvement in the crime. By his release, Jaafari's life is forever altered, although he still resists acknowledging that his wife is a killer of children, a keeper of secrets and a betrayer of their vows. His emotions churning, Jaafari leaves his professional world for the war-torn Palestine territories where Sihem spent her final days, the distraught husband plunging into dangerous places where he is unwelcome, careless of his safety in pursuit of truth. Instead he finds a bottomless well of suffering, confronted by his own failings and his inability to see his wife as she really was: "I would have idealized her less and idolized her less...how could I live her when I never stopped dreaming her?"

From city to city, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jenin, each is more violent than the last: "The old demons have made themselves so desirable that none of the possessed wants to be free of them." Suddenly a player in an historical drama with no cure and no comfort in sight, Jaafari is lost in a country torn by violence, passion and conflicting religious convictions. The sense of place is impeccable, disturbing: "By turns Olympus and ghetto, temple and arena, Jerusalem suffers from an inability to inspire poems without inflaming passions." And, "In Jenin, Reason has a mouth full of broken teeth and it rejects any prosthesis capable of giving it back its smile." With stunning imagery and fearless prose, Jaafari opens his heart to the impossible, walking though the fires of a personal hell in search of reason. Writing under a pseudonym, the author's passion for place and the torment of those who claim this country imbue the novel with a resonance that remains long after the last page is turned. Luan Gaines/ 2006.
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An impressive achievement Sept. 8 2007
By HORAK - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Amin Jaafari is a hard-working and talented surgeon at a busy Tel Aviv hospital, two generations away from his Arab origins. He is wealthy, popular with his Jewish colleagues, and devoted to his wife Sihem. The novel opens with Amin taking charge of the chaos in the emergency room after a suicide bomber attacks a restaurant in the Hakirya district of Tel Aviv, killing 19 people including a group of schoolchildren at a birthday party. Subsequently Amin is stopped and searched four times by Israeli policemen on the way home. He only wakes up to his own misfortune when he learns that Sihem has been killed in the bombing and that her wounds correspond to those found on suicide bombers.
Amin refuses to believe that Sihem could have committed such an act of terror. He expects her to return soon from Kfar Kanna where she is visiting her old grandmother. Disbelief gives way to horror when Sihem's last letter, posted from Bethlehem, turns up in his post box. As a consequence of Sihem's attack Amin's life, ambition, values and friendships disintegrate. He locks himself up in a nightmare of drink and despair in which he reflects on every aspect of his life, nationality and marriage. A Jewish colleague, Kim Yehuda, calls Amin back from the brink. He retraces Sihem's last journey from Tel Aviv to Bethlehem and back again. There Amin is repeatedly beaten up: by the Shin Bet, his Tel Aviv neighbours and Palestinian militants in the West Bank towns of Bethlehem and Jenin that were under siege by the Israeli army. Nevertheless he clings to his belief that as a surgeon his fight consists in recreating life in the place where death has chosen to conduct its manoeuvres.
The Attack uses both suicide bombing and the fate of many Israeli citizens who are of Arab origin. These are the descendants of the Arabs who stayed in the country rather than go into exile at the formation of Israel in 1948. Like Amin Jaafari in the story, they have suffered discrimination and mistreatment but have also prospered, and are now squeezed between an tormented Jewish state and their rebel fellow Arabs in Gaza and on the West Bank.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars what a memorable novel... Jan. 29 2007
By Natacha P - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
wow. i mean WOW. i literally started this book last night and i just finished it 10 minutes ago, & this is a day later. it's not really my wish to summarize what the book is about as any person can read the synopsis already provided. i choose to speak of the novel and the emotions it evoked in me, and is bound to do for many readers. first of all, this is not a "happy" novel, so those looking for such a story should probably refrain from reading this. it's filled with pain and truth, but even in that the beauty of it shines through, proof of a true work of art. secondly, this book does not take any particular sides, which i find to be one of its strong points. it merely lays out events and lets readers form their own opinion on each scenario. it's clear that this is hard to find nowadays, since most books concerning the israeli-palestinian conflict tend to have their own biases and usually lean on one side or the other. what i find very remarkable is the fact that although this is not "based on a true story" per se, i cannot help but feel that i know Sihem, and even more so her loving husband Amin who cannot get over his sudden loss, so strong is his love for her, as well as his confusion over the whole issue. the characters are terribly real, forcing me to identify with them while they breathe life into the novel, yet also at the same time making the story all the more tragic because of that very authenticity factor. regardless of what my views are on this issue, i know that this novel has put me at a standstill, providing me with yet another perspective, and most importantly, forever engraving this narrative into my heart. a truly touching novel that is bound to move even the most indifferent hearts.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A writer of great humanity Dec 16 2006
By J. A Magill - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Rare in the Middle East conflict is any work, either fiction or non-fiction, that succeeds in recognizing the humanity and the particular struggles of both sides. This then more than anything else makes Khadra's `The Attack' a book well worth a reader's consideration. Not only does the work take seriously the dilemma and suffering as experienced by both Israelis and Palestinians, the author further delivers his tale with supreme pathos and engaging prose.

`The Attack' follows a short period of time in the life of Dr. Amin Jaafari, an Israeli citizen, a Bedouin Arab, and a successful surgeon. Having believed that he and his wife have integrated themselves into Israeli society, living a secular life in Tel Aviv, Jaafari's life literally explodes when he learns his wife has died in a suicide bomb attack on an Israeli restaurant. Stunned, Jaafari tries to understand why his wife made this fateful decision and how he could never have known.

Such a plot might easily lend itself either to the maudlin or the polemic. Khadra takes neither road towards mediocrity, instead letting Jaafari, the narrator drift between both Israeli and Palestinian society, giving the reader a view of each. In Israel, people feel numb at the murderous attacks, anger at the deaths, and bewilderment at how people could walk into restaurants packed with families and set off explosives. Likewise most Israelis characters have precious little understanding of their Arab neighbors. The same emotional turmoil exists among the Palestinians, with feelings of rage and humiliation yet having little understanding of what governs the thoughts of Israelis, often relying on stereotypes and myth. In both worlds Jaafari exists as a partial outsider, distraught and almost bemused at the lack of understanding.

Khadra's book is not perfect. Some readers may have a problem accepting Jaafari's bewildering ignorance about what is going on with his wife. Failing to do so will surely turn this read into a drag. Others may have trouble with the author's presentation of one side or the other, though I found it overwhelmingly real and human on both counts. In the end, I accepted and enjoyed the novel, a work of fiction that takes one where reality will often not let one go.
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