By Yasmina Khadra
Random House, $18.95.
Even during this time of war, Americans inhabit a strangely privileged place in global politics: When news of Left Bank suicide bombings crawls along a cable-news ticker, soot and blood makes the news for 30 seconds before being erased by 30 minutes on missing teens in Aruba. We cannot empathize with a horror we’ve been spared.
That disconnect may dissipate for readers of the new novel by Khadra (a pseudonym for exiled Algerian writer Mohammed Moulessehoul). Already a best-seller in France, The Attack is a thoughtful and emotional dissection of the personal politics of the Palestinian-Israeli clash. The story follows Dr. Amin Jaafari, the son of a Bedouin tribesman who’s become a successful Tel Aviv surgeon and naturalizedIsraeli citizen. Though he has grown accustomed to the violence plaguing his city, he seems more content to choose cultural integration over political activism.
After a long night of attending to victims of a brutal restaurant bombing, Jaafari is roused from sleep by the police. Among the dead was Jaafari’s wife, Sihem, they inform him—and her injuries are typical of those found on suicide bombers. Over the following days, Jaafari vacillates between denial and fury, bereavement and confusion, before finally setting out to understand why his wife—intelligent, modern, comfortable—strapped herself with explosives in the name of Palestinian independence.
Khadra writes illustratively, creating a wealth of internal struggle for Jaafari: Is he first an Arab or an Israeli, and can he condemn violence without first understanding what fuels it? Was Sihem’s true identity that of a loving wife, or of a militant separatist? And how many interpretations of justice and righteousness exist? By the book’s searing conclusion, the answers are barely clearer than when Jaafari started his quest. Readers looking for a simple explanation of religious fanaticism’s causes will be disappointed, as will those looking for a clear condemnation of violence and the ideas behind it. To the curious and observant mind, however, The Attack is an engaging glimpse into the kinds of stories we never hear on CNN.—Annie Tomlin