The Attack: Novel Hardcover – May 9 2006
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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.
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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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.
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.
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.
`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.
From this opening premise, Yasmina Khadra's THE ATTACK traces the aftereffects of terrorism on one of its unintentional victims. Or perhaps the effects were indeed intentional on Sihem's part. Jaafari is immediately seized by the Israeli police as, at a minimum, a knowledgeable co-conspirator. He is treated harshly, in part because of his Palestinian heritage, but finally released. Reviled and beaten by his neighbors, Jaafari ultimately embarks on a dangerous quest of his own to learn the truth. There is no crime to solve; his wife's role as a suicide bomber is beyond dispute. Rather, he wants to know how this "conversion" took place, to meet the madman who brainwashed Sihem into throwing her life away. What did that individual have that I didn't have, Jaafari asks himself. He can't live with the reality of what happened, can't reconcile himself to the facts, until he meets the individual face-to-face who turned his wife into a killer of nineteen (page 17) or perhaps just 17 (page 102) innocent people, eleven of them (or is it nine?) children. Jaafari's search takes him from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, into the shadowy corners of Muslim mosques and ultimately across "the wall" into Palestinian territory. At the same time, his quest reunites him with his family, people on whom he had effectively turned his back in order to become the perfectly assimilated Palestinian healer.
Mohamed Moulessehoul, author of the magnificent THE SWALLOWS OF KHABUL, continues to publish under a feminine pseudonym Yasmina Khadra despite the widespread knowledge of his identity as a former Algerian army officer. In THE ATTACK, he presents us with a character blissfully earning and living the good life until shockingly awakened one day by his wife's seemingly inexplicable actions. While the story line is meant to show us how Jaafari's eyes are opened to the world around him, especially to racism and the suffering of his own people (even his own family), the events that lead him down this path seem contrived. Dr. Jaafari walks blindly into a violent world, suffering repeated beatings and unintentionally threatening the safety of people who may be terrorists or who may have helped planned Sihem's attack. Through it all, readers are expected to believe that the good doctor who has lived his life with his back turned on his own people is now not only tolerated, he is humored, his wishes granted without reprisal, without being killed for the very threat of exposure he poses. Certainly he must be a spy, or at least a dupe of the Israelis, followed simply for the individuals whom he might inadvertently expose. The book's shocking finale suggests the possibility that such may have indeed been the case, that the good doctor has both been used and become a victim of an incessant, eye-for-an-eye war.
Khadra creates a couple of strong supporting characters in the mothering and perhaps amorously-inclined Kim Yehuda and the sympathetic Israeli police official Navid Ronnen. Khadra's writing is fluid and easily readable, but his dialog leans too often toward unrealistically preachy ("The tragedy of certain well-intentioned people...is that they don't have the courage of their commitments, and they fail to follow their ideas to their logical conclusion." Do Israelis and Palestinians really speak like that?), and his prose inclines too readily to cliches and trite phrases (when the going gets tough, moving heaven and earth, looked down their noses, don't have as much punch as you used to, lost in space, hit it off, bite their tongues, to boot, good sport, tune out, get to the bottom of, we've got a red alert, not a minute to spare, in a split second - all in just Chapter 1). Furthermore, given the symbolic darkness of the events and Jaafari's soul, references to sunset and dawn would be understandable, but not ad nauseum:
"Night is preparing to strike camp as the dawn grows impatient at the gates of the city."
"The evening is settling in, and the night promises to be feverish."
"The sun begins to lower its profile."
"...the dawn lights up with a thousand fires..."
"The sun disappears on tiptoe behind the horizon."
"The immaculate sky, still heavy from its guiltless sleep, awakens with a lazy stretch."
"The night's last stars fade out slowly in the opalescence of the rising sun."
"...night begins to pull her black skirts away from the first touch of dawn."
Somebody call an editor, or a bomb squad! Read THE ATTACK for its premise and the author's approach to weaving the tale, but not for its literary merit. Better for that to stick with Khadra's more masterful THE SWALLOWS OF KABUL.