Sunday, August 26, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: The Attack by Yasmina Khadra

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.

ISBN10: 0307275701
ISBN13: 9780307275707

Translated from the French by John Cullen
Trade Paperback
272 Pages
Publisher: Anchor Books
Publication Date: April 25, 2007
Author Website: (in French)


Thursday, August 23, 2007

BOOK REVIEW: The Rest of Her Life by Laura Moriarty

A few days prior to high school graduation, Kara Churchill’s life changed forever when her car accidentally claims the life of classmate Bethany Cleese. The already strained relationship she has with her mother Leigh is pushed to the breaking point. In the aftermath of the tragic events, both the community and the Churchill family are split apart. Now Leigh must come to terms with what her daughter has done and the ramifications facing their family, while protecting Kara from the public reaction. Leigh’s helplessness in the face of her daughter’s refusal to be comforted forces her into unwelcome reflection on her own relationship with her mother and some earth-shattering realizations of her own.

The Rest of Her Life, the new novel by Laura Moriarty, shares the stark misery of a family in turmoil and explores the impact such an event has on each member. From the first pages it is clear that the relationship between Leigh and Kara is neither strong nor healthy. At the moment when all her concern should be on reaching her daughter in her zombie-like state, Leigh is aware that her concern is at not having time with her daughter during this major crisis.

“But Gary had already gotten his time alone with Kara on this terrible night. Leigh deserved hers. There was something ridiculous and petty about worrying about this now, at a time like this, but on a deeper, more crucial level, Leigh also believed something – or someone, maybe Gary – was always cutting her off from her daughter in a subtle but strong way.”

Leigh worries that a moment of forgetfulness in Kara’s early childhood has led to the permanent schism between them, wondering if “you could permanently alienate your child by simply laughing at her at the wrong time.” Leigh dedicated her life to being a better mother than the one that raised her and, as she tries to reach her daughter, it becomes increasingly clear that she resents the lack of appreciation shown by her daughter.

Moriarty slowly unfurls the dysfunction in the Churchill family, culminating in the night Gary questions Leigh about her care for their daughter and she suddenly wonders how he can so completely misunderstand her: “Tell me you want the best for her…Leigh. Look me in the eyes and tell me you want the best for Kara.” A short while later Leigh’s best friend Eva presents a similar sentiment: “Ahhhhh, now we get to…the heart of it…You know what you are? You’re the happiness police.”

Leigh refuses to acknowledge she has anything but love for her daughter and yet readers are left wondering. She has survived so long purely on the anger she has for her mother that she has prevented herself from having any enjoyment of the present. Leigh has used her anger as a shield to prevent people from getting close to her; however, this has prevented her from seeing the consequences of this choice on her family.

The Rest of Her Life is held back from being a truly exception novel by the character of Leigh. She is so unlikable that readers may be tempted to toss aside the novel without finishing it, a crime with a novel this good. While readers can see why Moriarty chose to write Leigh the way she did, it is not enough to make up for the “cringe-factor” experienced each time she begins to complain. Readers who persevere are rewarded with a novel that stays with them long after the final page.

Read the review at Curled Up with a Good Book.

ISBN10: 1401302718
ISBN13: 9781401302719

320 Pages
Publisher: Hyperion Books
Publication Date: August 7, 2007