The Attack

theattack.jpgI haven’t written a book report in quite a while, in part because I have less free time since Camila was born and in part because I haven’t been reading as much. When she was very little I could read while I nursed her, later she started grabbing for the book making that activity impossible. Now she’s been weaned, so I can once again read while I lie next to her, but that usually happens only at night – as she either takes her naps at daycare or in the stroller in the way home. None of this, of course, has anything to do with “The Attack.”
“The Attack,” is the title of a much-reviewed book by Yasmina Khadra, the nome de plume of Mohammed Moulessehoul, a former Algerian army officer and writer. Khadra’s former profession makes me suspicious of him – (clearly I’m not the only one). He is a man who has killed and committed god knows what other attrocities (he was in the Algerian army, he couldn’t have done otherwise) and who denies the commission of massacres of civilians by the Algerian army (these have been well documented by Amnesty International and other human rights organizations), so I think I’m well justified in my suspicions. But I think the book stands up well on its own, and that whatever small insights into the mind of suicide bombers Khadra offers are at least honest.
The book chronicles the quest of Dr. Amin Jaafari, an Arab-Israeli surgeon of Bedouin origin – to understand why his beautiful, happy wife one day tied a bomb to her body, went to a restaurant near the hospital where he worked, and blew herself up, taking with her several children and adults. His desire to understand is to understand is very personal, he feels betrayed by his wife (and rightly so) who gave him no hints he could discern (at least until later) of her purported unhappiness and political leanings. He is shocked and he is angry and he wants answers. He seeks them from the people whom she might have worked with, who gave her the bomb, who sent her on her way of destruction. But all the answers he can get are the obvious ones – “look around us, look at the dispossesion, the missery and humilliation of occupation, look at our lack of weapons and resources, how else can we fight this war than with our own deaths?”. An honest, a compelling answer but not one that can really explain why this particular woman chose that path. She had been walking in Israeli society for years, her best friends were Israelis, why not use her status to give voice to the Palestinians instead? Of course, perhaps I’m speaking out of my own prejudice.
As Dr. Jaafari explores the Occupied Territories looking for answers, for the first time (or so it seems) he becomes aware of the plight of his people, he remembers where he comes from and what he is. Alas, at the end I’m not sure this means anything.
And indeed, that was ultimately the problem with the novel for me. It was a quick and easy read, a compelling theme, but not one that was satisfactionally developed. We could empathize with the doctor’s emotions, but then what? We could be curious as to the motives of his wife, but as I said we never get much of an answer for what they were. At the end, I don’t think I learned anything, saw anything new about human nature, but at least I was entertained.

1 Comment

  1. benjamin(Marseille)

    I don’t speak english very well. But I desagree with you while you say that Khadra was a soldier who has killed and committed atrocities. De quel droit avancez-vous des choses aussi graves ? Khadra was a heroe. And he is a great writer. His generosity is extraodinary. I meat this man. In the bigining, I was affraid because some media in France. Now, I know who’s Khadra, a wonderfull humanist. You aren’t allowed to say stupid slanders and horrible calomny against man you never known.

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