Attack (Khadra)

The Attack 
Yasmina Khadra, 2005 (Trans., by John Collin, 2006)
Knopf Doubleday

272 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780307275707

Dr. Amin Jaafari, an Arab-Israeli citizen, is a surgeon at a hospital in Tel Aviv. Dedicated to his work, respected and admired by his colleagues and community, he represents integration at its most successful.

He has learned to live with the violence and chaos that plague his city, and on the night of a deadly bombing in a local restaurant, he works tirelessly to help the shocked and shattered patients brought to the emergency room. But this night of turmoil and death takes a horrifyingly personal turn. His wife’s body is found among the dead, with massive injuries, the police coldly announce, typical of those found on the bodies of fundamentalist suicide bombers.

As evidence mounts that his wife, Sihem, was responsible for the catastrophic bombing, Dr. Jaafari is torn between cherished memories of their years together and the inescapable realization that the beautiful, intelligent, thoroughly modern woman he loved had a life far removed from the comfortable, assimilated existence they shared.

From the graphic, beautifully rendered description of the bombing that opens the novel to the searing conclusion, The Attack portrays the reality of terrorism and its incalculable spiritual costs. Intense and humane, devoid of political bias, hatred, and polemics, it probes deep inside the Muslim world and gives readers a profound understanding of what seems impossible to understand. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Aka—Mohammed Moulessehoul
Birth—January 10, 1955
Where—Kenadsa, Sahara, Algeria
Education—Officer in Algerian Army
Currently—Aix-en-Provence, France

Yasmina Khadra is the nom de plume of the Algerian army officer Mohammed Moulessehoul, who is the author of four other books published in English: Double Blanc, Morituri, In the Name of God and Wolf Dreams. He took the feminine pseudonym to avoid submitting his manuscripts for approval by military censors while he was still in the army. He lives in France. (From the publisher.)

From an interview with Barnes & Noble:

When asked about his favorite books, here is what he said:

The Stranger by Albert Camus—for the calm power of its simplicity in translating the absurdity of the human condition.
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck—for its realism and the extraordinary handling of its characters. John Steinbeck is my favorite author.
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky—for its talent at revealing the pettiness of humans and their awful stupidity.
The Days by Taha Hossein—for the lucidity of its story and for the beauty of its language.
Sophie's Choice by William Styron—for the crudeness of its humanism and its implacable concern with reconstructing horror in its absolute cruelty, human cruelty.
Regain by Jean Giono—for his poetry and the sobriety of his talent.
The Quai of Flowers Doesn't Answer by Malek Haddad —for its beauty.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy—for his genius.
The Trial by Franz Kafka—for many reasons.
The Swallows of Kabul—because I wrote it.

Book Reviews
By the end of The Attack, Israel's heavy firepower appears to have marginally eclipsed Palestinian suicide bombing in the ugly-weapon stakes for Khadra, but his achievement in this novel is neither his take on the local politics nor his moral finessing. Instead, it is the way that he limns, quite brilliantly, the character of a man torn to pieces by extremism and extreme social distress, neither of which has been of his own making.
Jonathan Wilson - Washington Post

Khadra, the pseudonym of Mohammed Moulessehoul, an exiled Algerian writer celebrated for his politically themed fiction (The Swallows of Kabul), turns his attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in this moving novel unlikely to satisfy partisans on either side of the issue. Dr. Amin Jaafari is a man caught between two worlds; he's a Bedouin Arab surgeon struggling to integrate himself into Israeli society. The balancing act becomes impossible when the terrorist responsible for a suicide bombing that claims 20 lives, including many children, is identified as Jaafari's wife by the Israeli police. Jaafari's disbelief that his secular, loving spouse committed the atrocity is overcome when he receives a letter from her posthumously. In an effort to make sense of her decision, Jaafari plunges into the Palestinian territories to discover the forces that recruited her. Khadra, who nicely captures his hero's turmoil in trying to come to terms with the endless violence, closes on an appropriately grim note.
Publishers Weekly

Khadra (The Swallows of Kabul) has the ability to convey that damning sense of unrelenting anxiety that may indeed be the object of terrorism. His latest novel concerns Dr. Amin Jaafari, an esteemed surgeon of Arab-Bedouin descent who has worked against the odds to become a relatively well-appointed citizen of Tel Aviv. In an instant, the doctor's life is turned inside-out by a suicide-bomb attack near the hospital where he practices. The very worst of it comes when he learns that his beloved wife, who perished in the attack, is believed to have been the one who actually carried out the bombing. Incensed by this accusation, Amin rejects the idea that their idyllic marriage may not have been all that it seemed. His relentless search for the truth leads him back to a place from his past, and the story comes full circle. This could prove to be a book of some importance owing to its fine technique and relevance to current world affairs. Yasmina Khadra is a pseudonym for Mohammed Moulessehoul, a former officer in the Algerian army who lives in France. Recommended for all fiction collections. —Susanne Wells, P.L. of Cincinnati and Hamilton Cty.
Library Journal

Within relatively few pages, The Attack tells us so much about the complex realities of life in modern Israel. The narrator is a much-honored surgeon in Tel Aviv, Dr. Amin Jaafari, an Arab-Israeli. As Amin works on the victims of a suicide attack, saving lives, his friend, a Jewish policeman, tells him his wife was also in the attack. Amin is horrified by his wife's death, and stunned to learn the police believe it was she who was the suicide bomber. What unfolds is Amin's determination to find out if indeed his wife was the bomber, and then to learn why she did this outrageous act. Amin had believed their marriage was happy, that their comfortable life in Israel, their assimilation in Israeli society, was a success. What follows is a tense few weeks as Amin follows every tiny lead that might bring him to the truth. He is doing this as he is lost in grief and irrational rage. His once-friendly neighbors have trashed his home and threatened him, since he is the husband of a terrorist. So, with his life completely upturned, he uses his intelligence and family ties to discover the truth about his wife, about her decision, about the condition of the Palestinian community, including Amin's own relatives. You may recognize the author because of his book The Swallows of Kabul. He is a former Algerian army officer, now living in France, and seems to be an ideal interpreter of the life of an Arab living an assimilated life in a Western country. The Attack is suspenseful and insightful. —Claire Rosser

"How could she?" That's the question haunting an eminent Arab Israeli surgeon, whose wife has become the latest suicide bomber. Khadra (pseudonym of a retired Algerian army officer) moves from Algeria (Wolf Dreams, 2003) and Afghanistan (The Swallows of Kabul, 2004) to Israel/Palestine. A huge explosion kills 19 people, 11 of them schoolchildren, in a fast-food restaurant in Tel Aviv. Amin Jaafari operates on the injured before returning to his beautiful home, under the illusion that his wife Sihem is visiting her grandmother's farm. Then he gets a call to identify her body in the morgue and is interrogated by the cops for three days before being cleared. Amin is still in denial; after all, they were a close, loving couple, they were not practicing Muslims, and most of their friends were Jews. Only when he finds a note from her implying her guilt does he accept the truth. He is attacked by a mob outside his home and is given shelter by a fellow doctor and old flame, Kim Yehuda. Desperately confused and angry, Amin drives to Bethlehem; that is where Sihem had mailed her note. He exposes himself to danger by forcing a meeting with the radical imam, but gets nowhere; Kim sympathetically points out that he needs a shrink more than a sheikh. But Amin feels betrayed, doubly so when he suspects, on flimsy evidence, that Sihem was having an affair with his nephew Adel, whom he tracks down in Jenin after scary encounters with Intifada leaders. Yes, says Adel, Sihem had been part of an Intifada cell; no, they were never lovers. Khadra keeps the story moving at a good clip, but there's a flaw at its center; how could Amin's intimate marriage have contained such a devastating secret? Sihem is a shadowy figure, and her freelance self-destruction, opposed by her cell, is unconvincing. Amin's question is never satisfyingly answered. The action is always convincing, the relationships less so.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. What was your reaction to the novel’s powerful opening scene? How did your perception of this scene shift as the narrator’s life later unfolded for you?

2. What were your initial perceptions of Amin and Sihem’s marriage? Whom did you trust during the interrogation in chapter four?

3. Why does Kim remain so supportive of Amin? In what way is her friendship different from Navid’s? Why are they more patient with him than most of their colleagues are?

4. Discuss the very concept of an attack, which forms the novel’s title. What is the nature of the attacks that take place in the book, including not only the terrorist explosions but also the beating Amin receives when he tries to return to home. What emotional and psychological attacks take place? What motivates the novel’s numerous attackers?

5. How were you affected by the structure of the novel, including the author’s use of present tense, the first-person narration, and the way the timeline unfolds? What makes fiction itself a useful form in examining horrific realities?

6. Revisit the passages that emphasize two of the novel’s elderly characters: Kim’s grandfather, Old Yehuda, who in chapter six recalls Hitler’s rise; and in chapter sixteen, Omr, Amin’s great-uncle, who recalls the destruction of family orchards to make way for an Israeli colony. What do Yehuda and Omr reveal about the history of violence, not only in the Middle East but throughout humanity?

7. At the end of chapter seven, Amin tells Kim he has no idea why he did not tell Navid about the letter. In your opinion, why did he keep the receipt of Sihem’s letter asecret?

8. In the novel’s latter chapters, Amin believes his wife was having a romantic affair with Adel. What parallels exist between her actual liaisons with him and the infidelities usually associated with adultery? Was Sihem seduced?

9. In chapter nine, Amin’s taxi driver lauds a militant imam and plays one of his recordings. What elements of persuasion did you detect in the imam’s diatribe? What similar tactics are used by religious and political leaders in other circumstances around the world?

10. In chapter eleven, the imam at the Grand Mosque tells Amin, “The margin between assimilation and disintegration is quite narrow. There’s not much room for maneuver.” Do you agree? Is assimilation a dangerous goal? Knowing what you do about Amin’s upbringing, is it surprising that he was an advocate for assimilation? Does assimilation require a secular society?

11. What is Amin’s goal in investigating the truth about Sihem himself, and confronting those who assisted her, rather than letting the Israeli authorities handle it? In the end, has he achieved his quest?

12. Adel and the militants Amin encounters emphasize their anger about being humiliated, saying emotional and cultural destruction are just as devastating as physical destruction. What do these observations imply about solutions for peace? What did you learn from the novel—not only about daily life in the Middle East but also about the prospects for peace?

13. The author is a retired army officer from Algeria, a former French colony. After he won a small French literary prize for a collection of short stories, his writing came to the attention of Algerian army officials and he was forced to submit future works to army censors. Thus, he created a female pseudonym to avoid censorship. He now lives in France and has since revealed his true name, Mohammed Moulessehoul. In what way did his life prepare him to write The Attack? Would your impressions of the novel have been different had you thought the author was female?

14. Compare The Attack to the author’s previous novel, The Swallows of Kabul, which is set in Afghanistan during the Taliban’s rule. In what ways do these novels complement each other? How do the dynamics of marriage play out in each of these books?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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