In three words:
Emotive, touching, shocking
Dr Amin Jaafari is an Israeli Arab. He has put himself through medical school and now works in a Tel Aviv hospital as a surgeon. He has a nice home in a nice part of the city, he and his wife Sihem attend dinner parties with their Israeli friends and are happy.
When a suicide bomber strikes in a crowded restaurant in Tel Aviv killing 19 people, including eleven children at a birthday party, the hospital is put on high alert and it’s all hands to the deck. Amin finally goes home exhausted to his wife, and assumes that her absense means that she is still with her Auntie in Nazareth. When Amin is woken only a few hours later by the police to tell him that his wife was killed in the blast and is suspected of being the suicide bomber, Amin’s life as he knows it is turned upside down….
The Attack opens with literally that – an attack. The confusion, the silence; it all seems to happen in slow motion and we are no more clued up than those in amongst the devastation: The opening chapter is incredibly powerful.
Having lived in Israel back in the early-mid nineties (I regularly mention it on my blog as it made such an impression on me and I am still pretty obsessed with all things Israeli) I am drawn to books like this. The media, righly so, reports on the happenings in Israel as they happen but what we don’t see is what goes on behind the scenes, and after the worlds cameras have left: What we don’t see is the shattering devastation that affects everyone else. The victims of the bombs, their families and friends, the survivors, but also those of the relatives of the suicide bomber whose lives will never be the same again either. The author, in my opinion, did a good job as putting both sides of the story across. I say “good” job as I feel that it is slightly weighted in favour of the Arab view point but let’s not forget where the author is from. Yasmina Khadra is the nom de plume for former Algerian officer Mohammed Moulessehoul and I feel (as the blurb on the back of the book states) he “rarely sits in judgement”. Despite the book starting with the killing of 19 Israelis, the book really centres around the suicide bomber, Sihem, and what drove a wealthy, priveledged wife of a well respected surgeon to carry out such a act.
Amin Jaafari, unable to believe what has happened or why, sets out on a journey to make sense of what he can’t believe is true and in doing this we are also taken on a journey of discovery with him which leads us through Bethlehem and Nazareth and the camps in Jenin as Sihems story unfolds. What Khadra has done is allowed us to see the other side of what gets reported – the anguish and disbelief felt by Amin as he slowly unravels a side of Sihem he didn’t know about:
“There must have been a moment, there must have been a sign, and I want to remember it, don’t you understand? I have to remember it. I have no other choice. Since I got that letter I’ve been constantly rooting around in my memories, trying to find the right one. Whether I’m asleep or awake, it’s all I think about. I’ve passed everything in review, from the most unforgettable moments to the least fathomable words and the vaguest gestures; nothing. And this blank spot is driving me crazy. You can’t imagine how much it tortures me, Kim. I can’t go on like this, pursuing it and suffering it at the same time.”
While all the time going through the mental torture that he does, Amin is also subjected to abuse from those he used to live amongst:
“Is that how people say thank you, you dirty Arab? “
“Look at the house you live in you son of a bitch. What more do you have to have before you learn to say thanks?”
As the story moves along, it is hard not to see things from both perspectives as I believe that Kharda has done a great job of allowing us this privelidge and I found my emotions swinging between the two sides with regularity: the high passions, the feelings of utter helplessness, the no hope for the future, the tit-for-tat of both sides.
A suicide bomb in Tel Aviv
A family in Jenin at what was their house
If you’ve ever wondered what happens after the cameras stop rolling then read this book: it’s a great insight into how this clash of civilisations continues to roll. Just don’t look for answers; you won’t find them here.
For other fantastic books set in this country you can also read my reviews of Mornings in Jenin, Day After Night and Before We Say Goodbye. I can highly recommend all three and they all give a slightly different perspective.
And finally, just to show the other side of Israel that rarely makes it to the news. The most wonderful, friendly, beautiful country and the big love of my life: