The German Mujahid Paperback – Sep 29 2009
|New from||Used from|
Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought
To get the free app, enter your e-mail address or mobile phone number.
About the Author
Boualem Sansal was born in 1949 in Algeria. Since the publication of his debut novel, Le serment des Barbares, which was awarded the Best First Novel Prize in France in 1999, he has been widely considered one of his country's most important contemporary authors. He lives with his wife and two daughters in Algiers.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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.
The older brother gives up his good job in a multi-national corporation to explore his father's life. He travels back to his own birthplace in Algeria and then visits all the places of horror connected with the extermination camps as well as Egypt and Turkey where his father found sanctuary after the Nazi war criminals were being hunted down. Later, the younger brother goes on a quest of his own and also travels to Algeria. But most of his story is rooted in the Muslim ghetto in France, which is being taken over by more and more dogmatic religious fanatics.
The author does not spare the reader the detailed descriptions of the cruelties of the past and the horrible potential for the future. But it ends with a small spark of hope and it is clear why he wrote this book. As I was reading the book I thought it had the voice of a young man. However, when I looked up the author I discovered he was born in Algeria in 1949 and began writing novels at age 50 after retiring from his job as a high ranking official in Algerian government. He lives in Algeria with his wife and children and his writing is internationally acclaimed although his books are banned in his own country. Hopefully, he will continue this kind of writing which clearly can make a difference in the world.
I give this book one of my highest recommendations even though it will be much too brutal for some.
This is a tale of two brothers, Michel and Rachel.
Written in the first-person perspective from both young men, the story unfolds. Rachel the successful and hardworking older brother, tries to understand his father's past by retracing his father's footsteps. We discover through Michel's diary, a journey filled with his father's dark past as a Nazi SS officer and his assimilation into life as an Algerian, converting to the Islamic faith. Can Rachel deal with the truth? How does a son atone for the sins of his father?
The younger brother, Michel, is an underachiever who has limited involvement with own family, preferring to spend time with his friends. He experiences the changes occurring in his community, a Muslim ghetto in France, as a small group of Fundamentalists impose their beliefs upon the citizens. He is sickened by the brutality and radicalism that tear his community apart. As Michel reads Rachel's diary, he learns about his brother, his search for truth and his struggles with atonement. Through the revelation of their father's role as a Nazi officer, he sees the similarities between events of the Holocaust and the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism in Algeria leading to the death of countless people. How does the younger brother deal with the knowledge that his father, through his duties in Nazi Germany, played a role that lead to the death of so many people? How does he finally deal with the turmoil in his own community.
We see how the two men deal with the truth of their father's past.
The story is difficult to follow, at times, because of Michel's fragmented sentence structure and the lack of historical context. Also, terminology was frequently undefined. I would recommend in the final version to have references for the historical context covering Algeria, a background about the ghettos in France and a 'glossary' (or footnote) of terminology. I do realize that this is an English version whereby some words may be lost in translation or the context may be understand by readers of the native language.
Overall, this was a captivating work that will give its reader insight regarding the ambitions for power and the horrors of racial cleansing. Sadly, we see how history often repeats itself.
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.
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.