The German Mujahid Paperback – Sep 29 2009
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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.
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.
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 story is about two brothers' reactions to the murder of their parents. Their deaths were committed by Islamic fundamentalists in 1990. Rachel pieces together the truth that their German father, was an SS officer guilty of war crimes during World War II. In tracing his father's escape from Germany to Algeria, he visits concentration camps where his father worked as a chemical engineer. Rachel cannot deal with the truth he has found, and he fals apart mentally which ultimately leads to his demise. Malrich, the other brother, finds himself in a mess. His brother has died presumably becausebof the truth he found out about their father. And, to make matters worse, some Islamic fundamentalists are taking over his home. Malrich makes the connotation of his father's war crimes and the actions of the Islamic Fundamentalists. The war of religion and government persist.
Well written, but too heavy and bleak for me.
Recommended. prisrob 04-06-13