The Attack By Yasmina Khadra
The Swallows of Kabul by Yasmina Khadra is the first novel in his trilogy of books that examine Muslim Fundamentalism. Published in 2002 it was a best seller in North America - a brilliant and disturbing story of the desperate lives of residents of Kabul in the days of the Taliban reign. As the swallows had disappeared from the ruined city so had the women's faces, hidden now in burqa and kept at home, their lives irrevocably diminished by the harsh laws and the danger of retribution for the smallest infraction of the law. Yasmina Khadra is a beautiful writer and the novels are definitely worth reading, each can be read as independent novels.
Yasmina Khadra is the nom de plume of an Algerian army officer Mohammed Moulessehoul, who took this feminine pseudonym for his own protection while still in the army. Now retired, he makes his home in France.
Yasmina Khadra's second novel, The Attack, was recently published in paperback.
It is the second in the trilogy, concluding with The Sirens of Baghdad published in hardcover this summer. The Attack, published in 2005, is the story of an Arab-Israeli doctor, Amin Jaafari, who with his wife, Sihem, lives in an affluent Tel Aviv suburb.
Amin has left behind the poverty of the Palestinian refugees he was born to and has become a very western, educated and affluent Arab-Israeli. He lives in a modern suburb in a lovely home among his mostly Jewish neigbours. He feels accepted in his community at home, and at the hospital where he works as a surgeon.
He has a solid reputation as an excellent surgeon and is happy with his life and especially his marriage. He adores his wife, Sihem, and believes that they have made a good life together.
The novel opens with a description of the carnage following a suicide bomb attack at a local café, with the victims arriving at the hospital where Amin works, and his attention to the dying and injured.
After a long day of surgery, alongside his Jewish friend and colleague, Dr. Kim Yehuda, Amin returns home to find his wife absent. I wished that I had not read the fly leaf of this book – as it tells us before that first dynamic chapter that it is Amin's wife who was the suicide bomber.
It is impossible, however, to review the book without revealing this fact. Amin cannot fathom how his wife could have done such a thing - how his love for her and the life they had built together was not worth more than death. The novel goes on to examine – through the grief and rage of Amin in the days following Sihem's death – how it is possible for anyone to not only commit suicide but to take the lives of others with their own.
Amin's friend Navid, a Jewish police man states, "I think even the most seasoned terrorists really have no idea what happened to them. And it can happen to anyone. Something clicks somewhere in their subconscious, and they're off….Afterward, you no longer see the world in the same way. You have only one thing on your mind. The thing that has taken over you, body and soul….You're just waiting for the right moment to cross the threshold… " . Amin can neither accept nor understand this, who can? Amin believes "There's nothing, absolutely nothing, more important than your life. And your life isn't more important than other people's lives". This, I believe, is true of most of us and makes it impossible to really understand suicide of any kind.
Amin is determined to discover who is responsible for persuading his wife to take the path of terrorism and so he tries to understand how she could have lived with him, appear to be happy with their life, and yet chose to end her life and the lives of others.
Amin has spent his life trying to save lives. He chose not to be part of the bloody conflict of the Middle East; he chose to care for his patients. "I'm a surgeon: In my view, there's enough suffering inherent in human flesh and no need for healthy people to inflict more on one another every chance they get".
I will not reveal the desperate conclusion of this novel – but I do recommend it as the work of a masterful and lyrical writer and a dynamic storyteller.