62 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Provocative. Jarring. Important read.
This book shook me to the core. It is the story of Dr. Amin Jafaari, a well-respected and successful surgeon in a Tel Aviv hospital who also happens to be an Israeli-Arab. The book opens with a devastating suicide attack in Tel Aviv. Amin's hospital is immediately mobilized and he "goes into action" trying to save innocent victims from the terrorist attack that...
Published on September 17, 2007 by William Capodanno
20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Great Premise, Only Partially Realized
Dr. Amin Jaafari is the poster boy of Palestinian assimilation and acculturation into the idealized Israeli/Palestinian coexistence - educated, socially gracious, wealthy, internationally traveled, a highly skilled surgeon who is more secular than religious, husband to the beautiful Sihem. Jaafari has struggled his entire life to integrate, to be accepted within Israeli...
Published on May 23, 2006 by Steve Koss
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62 of 63 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Provocative. Jarring. Important read.,
This review is from: The Attack (Paperback)
This book shook me to the core. It is the story of Dr. Amin Jafaari, a well-respected and successful surgeon in a Tel Aviv hospital who also happens to be an Israeli-Arab. The book opens with a devastating suicide attack in Tel Aviv. Amin's hospital is immediately mobilized and he "goes into action" trying to save innocent victims from the terrorist attack that ultimately claims 17 lives. As Amin heads home to recover from his exhaustion, he expects to find comfort from his wife Sihem. He is surprised and puzzled to find the house empty and Sihem yet to return from a three-day visit to her relatives near Nazareth.
Amin is awakened by a phone call five hours later, still disoriented from a lack of sleep, and called back to the hospital by his detective friend, Navid with still no idea about the reality about to confront him -- Sihem is suspected of being the suicide bomber.
The book is a remarkable story about Amin's attempt to come to grips with the incomprehensibility of the situation now confronting him. Was his wife really capable of such an "evil" act? If she was, could he have been "blind" to this? How could he have not been aware of what drove her to make such a choice? Did she betray him in any other ways?
While such a personal journey could provide for compelling reading, in Khadra's hand, the broader context of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict provides an even more provocative, timely and reflective book. Khadra doesn't impose answers on the readers. What he does do is reflect remarkably vivid portrait of the fear, destruction, stereotypes and complexity of the reality facing individuals on all sides of the conflict.
This book makes you think about the reality of the situation in the multi-dimensional and complex way the situation deserves, not in the black and white, one dimensional sound bites that generally surround us. For me, the most powerful moment in the book was Amin's reflection on something his father told him when he was a child "There's nothing, absolutely nothing, more important than your life. And your life isn't more important than other people's lives." Too bad, this couldn't be at the core of more people on all sides of this conflict.
31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "When horror strikes, the heart is always its first target.",
The novel begins in Tel Aviv with a rocket attack, the mayhem and chaos immediate and devastating, the street littered with the wounded and dying, the story segueing into the life of Dr. Amin Jaafari, a surgeon at a Tel Aviv hospital who dedicates his days to healing, basking in a contented marriage to the beautiful Sihem. As a suicide bomb explodes not far away, the doctor works long into the night to save the victims, returning to a silent house, belatedly remembering that his wife is due to return that evening after visiting her grandmother. By morning, Sihem has not returned, but Amin is unfazed, imagining she has just extended her stay. Later, at the hospital, the doctor is approached by the Israeli police, required to identify a body, that of the suicide bomber, who, to they have determined, is his wife, all but her lovely face destroyed by the explosion.
His mind shattered by this revelation, Amin returns home with the police, who dismantle his home and question him exhaustively to determine his possible involvement in the crime. By his release, Jaafari's life is forever altered, although he still resists acknowledging that his wife is a killer of children, a keeper of secrets and a betrayer of their vows. His emotions churning, Jaafari leaves his professional world for the war-torn Palestine territories where Sihem spent her final days, the distraught husband plunging into dangerous places where he is unwelcome, careless of his safety in pursuit of truth. Instead he finds a bottomless well of suffering, confronted by his own failings and his inability to see his wife as she really was: "I would have idealized her less and idolized her less...how could I live her when I never stopped dreaming her?"
From city to city, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Jenin, each is more violent than the last: "The old demons have made themselves so desirable that none of the possessed wants to be free of them." Suddenly a player in an historical drama with no cure and no comfort in sight, Jaafari is lost in a country torn by violence, passion and conflicting religious convictions. The sense of place is impeccable, disturbing: "By turns Olympus and ghetto, temple and arena, Jerusalem suffers from an inability to inspire poems without inflaming passions." And, "In Jenin, Reason has a mouth full of broken teeth and it rejects any prosthesis capable of giving it back its smile." With stunning imagery and fearless prose, Jaafari opens his heart to the impossible, walking though the fires of a personal hell in search of reason. Writing under a pseudonym, the author's passion for place and the torment of those who claim this country imbue the novel with a resonance that remains long after the last page is turned. Luan Gaines/ 2006.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars what a memorable novel...,
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wow. i mean WOW. i literally started this book last night and i just finished it 10 minutes ago, & this is a day later. it's not really my wish to summarize what the book is about as any person can read the synopsis already provided. i choose to speak of the novel and the emotions it evoked in me, and is bound to do for many readers. first of all, this is not a "happy" novel, so those looking for such a story should probably refrain from reading this. it's filled with pain and truth, but even in that the beauty of it shines through, proof of a true work of art. secondly, this book does not take any particular sides, which i find to be one of its strong points. it merely lays out events and lets readers form their own opinion on each scenario. it's clear that this is hard to find nowadays, since most books concerning the israeli-palestinian conflict tend to have their own biases and usually lean on one side or the other. what i find very remarkable is the fact that although this is not "based on a true story" per se, i cannot help but feel that i know Sihem, and even more so her loving husband Amin who cannot get over his sudden loss, so strong is his love for her, as well as his confusion over the whole issue. the characters are terribly real, forcing me to identify with them while they breathe life into the novel, yet also at the same time making the story all the more tragic because of that very authenticity factor. regardless of what my views are on this issue, i know that this novel has put me at a standstill, providing me with yet another perspective, and most importantly, forever engraving this narrative into my heart. a truly touching novel that is bound to move even the most indifferent hearts.
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An impressive achievement,
This review is from: The Attack (Paperback)
Amin Jaafari is a hard-working and talented surgeon at a busy Tel Aviv hospital, two generations away from his Arab origins. He is wealthy, popular with his Jewish colleagues, and devoted to his wife Sihem. The novel opens with Amin taking charge of the chaos in the emergency room after a suicide bomber attacks a restaurant in the Hakirya district of Tel Aviv, killing 19 people including a group of schoolchildren at a birthday party. Subsequently Amin is stopped and searched four times by Israeli policemen on the way home. He only wakes up to his own misfortune when he learns that Sihem has been killed in the bombing and that her wounds correspond to those found on suicide bombers.
Amin refuses to believe that Sihem could have committed such an act of terror. He expects her to return soon from Kfar Kanna where she is visiting her old grandmother. Disbelief gives way to horror when Sihem's last letter, posted from Bethlehem, turns up in his post box. As a consequence of Sihem's attack Amin's life, ambition, values and friendships disintegrate. He locks himself up in a nightmare of drink and despair in which he reflects on every aspect of his life, nationality and marriage. A Jewish colleague, Kim Yehuda, calls Amin back from the brink. He retraces Sihem's last journey from Tel Aviv to Bethlehem and back again. There Amin is repeatedly beaten up: by the Shin Bet, his Tel Aviv neighbours and Palestinian militants in the West Bank towns of Bethlehem and Jenin that were under siege by the Israeli army. Nevertheless he clings to his belief that as a surgeon his fight consists in recreating life in the place where death has chosen to conduct its manoeuvres.
The Attack uses both suicide bombing and the fate of many Israeli citizens who are of Arab origin. These are the descendants of the Arabs who stayed in the country rather than go into exile at the formation of Israel in 1948. Like Amin Jaafari in the story, they have suffered discrimination and mistreatment but have also prospered, and are now squeezed between an tormented Jewish state and their rebel fellow Arabs in Gaza and on the West Bank.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A writer of great humanity,
Rare in the Middle East conflict is any work, either fiction or non-fiction, that succeeds in recognizing the humanity and the particular struggles of both sides. This then more than anything else makes Khadra's `The Attack' a book well worth a reader's consideration. Not only does the work take seriously the dilemma and suffering as experienced by both Israelis and Palestinians, the author further delivers his tale with supreme pathos and engaging prose.
`The Attack' follows a short period of time in the life of Dr. Amin Jaafari, an Israeli citizen, a Bedouin Arab, and a successful surgeon. Having believed that he and his wife have integrated themselves into Israeli society, living a secular life in Tel Aviv, Jaafari's life literally explodes when he learns his wife has died in a suicide bomb attack on an Israeli restaurant. Stunned, Jaafari tries to understand why his wife made this fateful decision and how he could never have known.
Such a plot might easily lend itself either to the maudlin or the polemic. Khadra takes neither road towards mediocrity, instead letting Jaafari, the narrator drift between both Israeli and Palestinian society, giving the reader a view of each. In Israel, people feel numb at the murderous attacks, anger at the deaths, and bewilderment at how people could walk into restaurants packed with families and set off explosives. Likewise most Israelis characters have precious little understanding of their Arab neighbors. The same emotional turmoil exists among the Palestinians, with feelings of rage and humiliation yet having little understanding of what governs the thoughts of Israelis, often relying on stereotypes and myth. In both worlds Jaafari exists as a partial outsider, distraught and almost bemused at the lack of understanding.
Khadra's book is not perfect. Some readers may have a problem accepting Jaafari's bewildering ignorance about what is going on with his wife. Failing to do so will surely turn this read into a drag. Others may have trouble with the author's presentation of one side or the other, though I found it overwhelmingly real and human on both counts. In the end, I accepted and enjoyed the novel, a work of fiction that takes one where reality will often not let one go.
20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Great Premise, Only Partially Realized,
Dr. Amin Jaafari is the poster boy of Palestinian assimilation and acculturation into the idealized Israeli/Palestinian coexistence - educated, socially gracious, wealthy, internationally traveled, a highly skilled surgeon who is more secular than religious, husband to the beautiful Sihem. Jaafari has struggled his entire life to integrate, to be accepted within Israeli society by playing by their rules. His entire life is turned upside down one night when he is called to the hospital morgue to identify Sihem's horribly mutilated dead body. Unbelievably, he learns that the terrorist bomb whose victims he had been struggling to save earlier that day was in fact set off by his wife. Jaafari is stunned - his wife had always been the perfect modern woman, happy with her comfortable home and world traveling, apolitical, unreligious, and certainly not a terrorist. How could such a thing be true, and if true, how could he not have known this other Sihem? How could she have rejected him so, and rejected the life he was making for her?
From this opening premise, Yasmina Khadra's THE ATTACK traces the aftereffects of terrorism on one of its unintentional victims. Or perhaps the effects were indeed intentional on Sihem's part. Jaafari is immediately seized by the Israeli police as, at a minimum, a knowledgeable co-conspirator. He is treated harshly, in part because of his Palestinian heritage, but finally released. Reviled and beaten by his neighbors, Jaafari ultimately embarks on a dangerous quest of his own to learn the truth. There is no crime to solve; his wife's role as a suicide bomber is beyond dispute. Rather, he wants to know how this "conversion" took place, to meet the madman who brainwashed Sihem into throwing her life away. What did that individual have that I didn't have, Jaafari asks himself. He can't live with the reality of what happened, can't reconcile himself to the facts, until he meets the individual face-to-face who turned his wife into a killer of nineteen (page 17) or perhaps just 17 (page 102) innocent people, eleven of them (or is it nine?) children. Jaafari's search takes him from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and Bethlehem, into the shadowy corners of Muslim mosques and ultimately across "the wall" into Palestinian territory. At the same time, his quest reunites him with his family, people on whom he had effectively turned his back in order to become the perfectly assimilated Palestinian healer.
Mohamed Moulessehoul, author of the magnificent THE SWALLOWS OF KHABUL, continues to publish under a feminine pseudonym Yasmina Khadra despite the widespread knowledge of his identity as a former Algerian army officer. In THE ATTACK, he presents us with a character blissfully earning and living the good life until shockingly awakened one day by his wife's seemingly inexplicable actions. While the story line is meant to show us how Jaafari's eyes are opened to the world around him, especially to racism and the suffering of his own people (even his own family), the events that lead him down this path seem contrived. Dr. Jaafari walks blindly into a violent world, suffering repeated beatings and unintentionally threatening the safety of people who may be terrorists or who may have helped planned Sihem's attack. Through it all, readers are expected to believe that the good doctor who has lived his life with his back turned on his own people is now not only tolerated, he is humored, his wishes granted without reprisal, without being killed for the very threat of exposure he poses. Certainly he must be a spy, or at least a dupe of the Israelis, followed simply for the individuals whom he might inadvertently expose. The book's shocking finale suggests the possibility that such may have indeed been the case, that the good doctor has both been used and become a victim of an incessant, eye-for-an-eye war.
Khadra creates a couple of strong supporting characters in the mothering and perhaps amorously-inclined Kim Yehuda and the sympathetic Israeli police official Navid Ronnen. Khadra's writing is fluid and easily readable, but his dialog leans too often toward unrealistically preachy ("The tragedy of certain well-intentioned people...is that they don't have the courage of their commitments, and they fail to follow their ideas to their logical conclusion." Do Israelis and Palestinians really speak like that?), and his prose inclines too readily to cliches and trite phrases (when the going gets tough, moving heaven and earth, looked down their noses, don't have as much punch as you used to, lost in space, hit it off, bite their tongues, to boot, good sport, tune out, get to the bottom of, we've got a red alert, not a minute to spare, in a split second - all in just Chapter 1). Furthermore, given the symbolic darkness of the events and Jaafari's soul, references to sunset and dawn would be understandable, but not ad nauseum:
"Night is preparing to strike camp as the dawn grows impatient at the gates of the city."
"The evening is settling in, and the night promises to be feverish."
"The sun begins to lower its profile."
"...the dawn lights up with a thousand fires..."
"The sun disappears on tiptoe behind the horizon."
"The immaculate sky, still heavy from its guiltless sleep, awakens with a lazy stretch."
"The night's last stars fade out slowly in the opalescence of the rising sun."
"...night begins to pull her black skirts away from the first touch of dawn."
Somebody call an editor, or a bomb squad! Read THE ATTACK for its premise and the author's approach to weaving the tale, but not for its literary merit. Better for that to stick with Khadra's more masterful THE SWALLOWS OF KABUL.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A powerful political novel,
As the hostilities between Israel and the Arab world grind on with ever-greater loss and blame, it's not difficult to see how the perceptions of an outsider can often fathom both the broad and intimate gestures of a raging civil and cultural conflict. Most who do glimpse the relentless insanity rampant across the present-day Holy Land (with the additional complications of Lebanon) either recoil in horror or exploit its afflictions with cheap and incendiary journalism. Another suicide bombing in the news; today a restaurant, tomorrow a bus, next week...who knows?
In THE ATTACK, which viscerally details the prolonged detonation of just such a bombing, Yasmina Khadra has taken the brave (perhaps even brazen) approach of turning the wretchedness of generations-old enmity into very personalized fiction. He --- former Algerian army officer Mohammed Moulessehoul, who until recently used a female alias for protection --- leaps the cultural and geographical gap between North Africa and the Middle East with little awkwardness, compared to the immense challenges of accompanying and revealing the deep psychological trauma of his protagonist.
Dr. Amin Jaafari, an eminent surgeon, is among more than one million Arabs who, in real life, are full citizens of Israel. They rarely make news headlines, for they live in a peculiar kind of shadow land; never fully accepted by Jewish society, but accorded all the rights, privileges, resources and opportunities that their brothers and sisters on the other side of the cultural (and now very tangible) Wall both admire and envy --- and for which all too many are willing to die seemingly senseless deaths. Jaafari represents those who (like some dear friends of mine) have worked long and hard to attain skills that make them grudgingly indispensable to the Israeli infrastructure.
Jaafari comes across as a convincing composite of many such unsung heroes of this long war, who routinely stitch up Israeli and Arab alike, making no distinction between them when it comes to preserving life and doing no harm. His patients, even in extreme pain, don't always feel the same way, but he's used to that too.
By the time the scenes of yet another suicide attack at an Israeli restaurant begin to resolve into distinct visual and statistical elements of death, dying and survival, Khadra has set up the intense emotional context for an abrupt left turn that takes us into the deepest hell an individual of Jaafari's profession can imagine. His own Palestinian wife has been identified by police as the latest suicide bomber to randomly kill dozens of Jewish men, women and children.
From that point of numbing disbelief on, Jaafari becomes an intensely empathic study in the tortuous journey of human grief. And grief, as any good pastoral or religious counsellor can attest, is perversely messy. Despite its famous "stages" as defined by luminaries like Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, this particular form of spiritual agony follows no textbook ordering, no predictable degrees of intensity or duration. As difficult as it is to follow Jaafari's descent into a maelstrom of self-hatred, denial, anger, confusion, fear, apathy and myriad other shades of emotion that assail the human psyche in the wake of catastrophic loss, this is the real substance of Khadra's story and he handles it with brilliant pathos. (Translator John Cullen must have been tested to the limit in capturing the passion and color of Khadra's original French text.)
Khadra uses the distance of his outsider's eye with sensitivity and intelligence to portray the individual and collective personalities that ebb and flow around Jaafari's erratic quest for understanding, making THE ATTACK a surprisingly even-handed treatment. Both Arabs and Israelis are shown with their due proportion of graces and failings, and both are allowed to reflect on the evils of war and subjugation that have been the story of Israel and Palestine since their modern beginnings.
It's almost redundant to comment that there is no happy ending to this story. And Khadra has offered only the most tentative threads of hope, doling them out at painfully long intervals. Like so many clear-eyed observers, he appears to see few avenues to any long-term structural solution --- at least, not the kind imposed from without --- in this bleeding pocket of the Middle East.
But by focusing on one victimized individual, he has illuminated a few patches of the spiritual ground on which people of vastly different ideologies can (and do) still walk together. They are the ones, Arab and Israeli alike, who work side by side to pick up the pieces, even as bombs and bullets rain around them. Unfortunately, they don't make many news headlines, but Khadra has told their story with unforgettable power and immediacy.
Memo to George W. Bush, Condoleezza Rice, Ehud Olmert, Tony Blair, Stephen Harper and that whole gaggle of folks "at the top" who still seem to think there's a fast, simple, one-size-fits-all solution for a situation of gargantuan complexity and sadness: get a copy of THE ATTACK now, and set aside an evening to read it cover to cover. I'm not kidding!
--- Reviewed by Pauline Finch (firstname.lastname@example.org), an Anglican seminary student who has traveled in Israel and Palestine. She works as a national media consultant/researcher and copy editor for the Canadian Islamic Congress.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A compelling read,
'The Attack' is a compelling read. You'll be hard-pressed to put it down. The story's protagonist - Dr. Amir Jaafari - goes through a terrifying series of traumas. We watch him literally fall apart before our eyes as he tries to maintain a hold on the story's narrative. To say anything more would be to reveal crucial plot details. The most fascinating parts of the story are the vivid, detail-laden accounts of life in locales like Bethlehem and Jenin.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing and eloquent,
Reviews by now have summarized the plot, but I'll add my quick summary to this review. An Israeli physician of Arab heritage finds that his wife, unknown to him, had become a suicide bomber. He seeks understanding.
Throughout this novel, his search for understanding becomes the reader's as well. She couldn't have, or did she, and if she could have, WHY?
WHO MADE HER DO THIS? She was a beautiful woman whom he and others loved very much. She was his wife, and their life was good. WHY?
While I cannot pretend that I understand now, somehow this novel gave me a few fleeting moments of understanding of each side of this horrific conflict. I don't like what I feel, because I cannot see an end to the horror.
I wonder though, what if all the politicians in our countries, (the entire U.N. would do nicely) were to read this heartfelt story, would they, perhaps, work a little bit harder to resolve this? I don't know. In the meantime, we civilians can read the book and continue to press our case for peace. It is possible.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "The Attack"...a novel of the pain and strife in the Middle East,
A thought provoking fictional novel from Yasmina Khadra.
The setting for this book is in present day Israel, replete with all the trappings surrounding the pent-up hate, rage and suspicions that predominant this area of the world.
This is the story of a young, well respected, Arab-Israeli surgeon (Dr. Amin Jaafari) who lives and works in Israel. Shortly after he attends to the victims of a suicide bombing (not an unusual occurrence for him) he is made aware of a development that is about to change his life as he knows it; the suicide bomber was his wife! The news is met initially with denial and disbelief, then a grudging acceptance and finally 'why'.
The 'why' leads Amin on a dangerous trail of discovery that uncovers and discusses many of the tenets of belief that occupy the thinking of the Arabs and Israeli in this tinderbox known as the Middle East. Needless to say, Dr. Jaafari also discovers many things about himself and his life that had, up to this time, remained hidden from him.
The story is well written and holds your interest; the book is hard to put down. Khadra's development of the main character, Dr Amin Jaafari, is parallelled superbly with his (Jaafari's) ever increasing knowledge of the extraordinary situation that is opening up before him. My only minor concern with Dr Jaafari's character was that some of the decisions he made on his 'quest' were somewhat ill-advised (IMHO); but this may be partially explained by stress the man was under and also because I'm dealing with a culture and attitude that I'm not familiar with.
It is not, as you might imagine, a pleasant tale, but one does get a sense that the author knows what he's talking about when discussing the 'politics' of the area. What I found particularly interesting was that Khadra, in weaving Dr. Jaafari's story, was able to give a deeper insight into the thinking of both sides. You begin on one hand, to understand the Arab sense of repression and the loss on dignity, but as well, the Israeli increasing distrust and frustration for the Arab regime, particularly since the suicide bombings have begun.
An intriguing novel. Although fiction, the story is not outside the realm of being plausible.
Even more important is the light shed on the circumstances that reflect the partisan thinking that prevails in this area of the world. You begin to understand that hate, rage and distrust have dominated for SO long that it's hard to consider other more peaceful options; hard to consider because for things to changes it would mean that both side would have to 'give a little' and giving a little would mean 'losing face'. And of all the options available, 'losing face' is not one of them. Easily 5 Stars.
P.S. Yasmina Khadra also wrote 'The Swallows of Kabul', another one of my favorite books.
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The Attack by Yasmina Khadra (Paperback - April 25, 2007)