Read African Writers: The Attack, by Yasmina Khadra

attackalgeriaDr. Amin Jaafari is a surgeon. He is an Arab and a naturalized Israeli citizen. He and his wife live a happy, secular life. One day, he finds out that his wife has blown herself and a fast food restaurant filled with schoolchildren up in a suicide bomb attack. In Yasmin Khadra’s The Attack, Dr. Jaafari seeks answers both within himself and from members of Arab community in Israel. In the process, Khadra — originally from Algeria — shines a light on the enduring Arab-Israeli conflict. I found this book illuminating and often engaging. The pacing slowed in the middle, and occasionally I wished for a little less thinking and a little more action. But ultimately, the insights and an occasionally lovely turn of phrase — I “stare unwaveringly at the opalescent streaks gently lifting the horizon’s coattails” at sunrise — won me over. I enjoyed John Cullen’s English translation and Stefan Rudnicki’s narration of the audiobook.

Here are some passages that stood out to me:
  • On violence: “The only battle I believe in is the battle the surgeon fights, which consists in recreating life in the place where death has chosen to conduct its manoeuvres.”
  • On the motivations of terrorists: “I think even the most seasoned terrorists really have no idea what has happened to them. And it can happen to anyone. Something clicks somewhere in their subconscious, and they’re off. Their motives aren’t all equally solid, but generally, whatever it is, it comes over them like that… Either it falls on your head like a roof tile or it attaches itself to your insides like a tapeworm. Afterward, you no longer see the world the same way. You’ve got only one thing on your mind: the thing that has taken you over, body and soul.”
  • On God: “I couldn’t bring myself to accept the notion that God could incite his subjects to take up arms against one another and reduce the exercise of faith to an absurd and frightening question of power relationships.”
  • On dreams: “He who dreams too much forgets to live.”
Here are some other reviews:
  • The Complete Review: “The final truth, and all the consequences are fairly well handled, and the novel packs a decent punch by the end.” (The Complete Review also excerpts a number of other reviews.)
  • James Buchan, The Guardian: “With the exception of Dr Yehuda, Moulessehoul’s Jews are louts. His Arabs strike heroic poses. There is none of that peculiarity of place, person and history that you find in an Israeli Arab writer such as the late Emile Habiby.”
  • Janet Maslin, New York Times: “painfully acute observations of Arab-Israeli strife…  This book is also gripping and dynamic in ways that rivet the reader even when the thinking is didactic and the prose takes a purplish turn.”
  • Publishers Weekly: “Khadra…turns his attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in this moving novel unlikely to satisfy partisans on either side of the issue.”
  • The New Yorker: “Khadra’s writing has a tendency toward cliché, but the book’s dark vision of the conflict is powerful.”
This is book #11 in my effort to read a book by an author from every African country in 2019.

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