§ion=&combo2=&text1=&text2=&SocNetUsername=&SocNetPassword=&authCode=& 7th Decade Thoughts: The Attack by Yashmina Khadra

7th Decade Thoughts

Thoughts about books, politics and history (personal and otherwise), pictures I've taken and pictures I've edited.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Attack by Yashmina Khadra

Yashmina Khadra is the pen name of a former Algerian Army officer—male, though "Yashmina" sounds female doesn't it?

The main character is a surgeon who in the early scenes is dealing with an emergency at a Tel Aviv hospital. A suicide bomber has devastated a fast food restaurant in the middle of a children's birthday party. The surgeon is an Arab, of a Bedouin family, now a citizen of Israel and with mostly Jewish friends. He's a secular humanist, dedicated to protecting life, scornful of terrorists and ideologues of all sorts. He's a brilliant surgeon who has received many honors, though he is discriminated against, even by some colleagues though he's personable and self-effacing and therefore loved and honored by more. But at checkpoints he always has problems.

His wife is not home when he gets there—she's gone to visit her grandmother in Nazareth. He collapses in bed, exhausted, only to awakened in the middle of the night to be told by a friend in the police that the suicide bomber was his wife. He is sure she was just in the restaurant for some reason—there is no doubt though that she died there. No one else has any doubts about why she was there. He's held in jail for 3 days. When he's released he's reviled by his neighbors and beaten up by an angry mob.

The doctor's journey to understanding takes up most of the book. The writing is beautiful and spare (obviously the translator is excellent, but the book must have been at least as powerful in the original French—it was first published in 2005 in France). The emotional content is razor sharp and genuine. Not since I read Joan Didion's My Year of Magical Thinking have I read a book straight through till I finished it. For similar reasons: the stark emotional content in beautifully controlled prose.

This one is fiction. The main character is attractive and sympathetic, but what's really compelling is the mind of an Arab who was living a useful and satisfying life in Israel but who's pretty much suppressed (one understands exactly why) the ugly part of the country he grew up in. To understand what happened to his wife, he has to go back—physically to Bethlehem, Nazareth and ultimately Jenin, the "big city" near where his family still lives presided over by a great uncle—head of the clan—who fought with Lawrence of Arabia. But also back in time to the young boy roaming the hills outside Jenin, to the ghosts of his father, the artist who's determined his son will become a doctor, and of the mother who'd lost her son in the process. Without abandoning his own values he comes to understand almost more than he can bear about the lives and beliefs of those who didn't have his opportunities to escape.

I can't imagine that the movies won't pick this one up. It's fast moving and violent and the contrasts between the upper middle class life in Tel Aviv and poverty of Bethlehem, to say nothing of the bulldozed streets of Jenin, should be dramatic.


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