Dr. Amin Jaafari is the poster-boy for integration at a Tel Aviv hospital. An Arab-Israeli citizen from a Bedouin family, he is apolitical by the standards of the area and focusing on saving lives rather than destroying them. After a devastating bombing injures many in a local restaurant, Amin tirelessly attends to the injured brought to the emergency room at his hospital. He has barely fallen asleep when he is called back to the hospital where he learns the shocking truth; his wife’s body has been found in the wreckage and she bears all the injuries associated with suicide bombers. Unable to accept the mounting evidence against the modern and intelligent woman he married, Amin leaves Tel Aviv to find answers. But in a world where fundamentalists find answers through bombing, will Amin be able to understand, let alone accept, his wife’s actions?
Yasmina Khadra new novel The Attack, presents a stunning portrait of a man struggling to understand a life-shattering event. For most of the western world, terrorism is a word that invokes images of collapsing towers. For residents of the Middle East, terrorism is a much more immediate reality. Suicide bombers are part of daily life for residents in this region and The Attack provides a window into the belief system which can lead to such violent action.
Khadra, the female pseudonym of former soldier Mohammed Moulessehoul, is most effective when penning Amin. The compelling passages where Amin wrestles with his memories and beliefs about his wife are filled with poignancy. Sihem has not only blown up a restaurant, she has shattered Amin’s illusion of their life together. By stripping away his belief in their perfect existence, he is a shadow of his former self, wrestling with personal demons and the overwhelming need to understand how he failed his wife so completely. The motivation which drives Amin into exploring a world so foreign makes sense in this context.
Unfortunately, the same verisimilitude is not present in the dialogue of the religious zealots. Khadra tries to present a balanced portrait of all sides in this conflict; however, the result is “canned” characters who speak with stilted, pontificating voices. The main downfall of The Attack is in the failure to create a compelling reason why Sihem would become a suicide bomber. Female bombers are a rare occurrence and a strong motivation for Sihem is vital to making her role convincing. Khadra doesn’t provide her with a clear voice and readers are left with the impression of a lost soul, swayed by strong personalities, rather than a committed fanatic prepared to martyr herself.
The Attack is a violent novel: bombings; violent attacks on Amin; and diatribes of hatred. Within the context of the political climate, the majority of the violence “fits”; however, it is the quantity and scope of violence against Amin that brings the word “excessive” to reader’s minds. The violence perpetuated against Amin is extreme and comes from all sides of the political spectrum. Like a poisonous snake, it is impossible to turn away from and sensitive readers may find it necessary to read this novel in small doses.
The Attack is disturbing but has much to teach readers who can see past the bloodshed. If Khadra had restrained his tendency toward violent excess, this novel would have reached a broader audience.
Read the review at Curled Up with a Good Book.
Translated from the French by John Cullen
Publisher: Anchor Books
Publication Date: April 25, 2007
Author Website: www.yasmina-khadra.com (in French)
tags: books book reviews fiction Yasmina Khadra John Cullen Arab-Israeli Relations