One of my students this semester is originally from Morocco. In her literacy narrative, she wrote about reading passionately in both French and Arabic as a young girl, so I asked her about the books she read then and the books she reads now. The next week, she loaned me The Attack by Yasmina Khadra, which she had read originally in French. Even before I began the story, I was intrigued by the author—a former Algerian army officer writing under a nom de plume.
The Attack tells the story of an Arab-Israeli physician, Dr. Amin Jaafari, whose wife is killed in a bomb attack at the start of the novel. Before that moment, Dr. Jaafari had been living the good life in Tel Aviv—he is a well-respected surgeon and he and his wife live in an expensive home in a fashionable Jewish-Israeli neighborhood. Though he occasionally faces discrimination on the street or in his workplace, Dr. Jaafari has managed to straddle two conflicting societies with only a small bit of tension.
That balancing act comes to an end when evidence suggests that Jaafari’s wife was not an innocent victim but in fact, the cause of the blast. This news rocks Jaafari’s world and puts everything that he knew about his wife in doubt. First, he doesn’t believe it’s true. Then, he becomes fixated on learning the truth of how his wife was radicalized. This all plays out while Dr. Jaafari’s own standing at work and in his community is destroyed.
One of the things that is both most uncomfortable and most realistic about this novel is how difficult it is for Jaafari to realize both that his wife may not have been happy or satisfied in their relationship or that she may have had an inner life that he was not a party to. His pursuit of the truth is as much the act of a jilted lover/cuckolded spouse as it is the act of a husband wanting to know why his wife chose this form of resistance. As Jaafari leaves Tel Aviv for towns on the West Bank, he sees that the reality on the ground is far worse than he imagined:
Nevertheless, I have seen many things since I passed to the other side of the Wall: small villages in a state of siege; checkpoints on every access road; larger roads littered with charred vehicles blasted by drones; cohorts of the dammed, lined up and waiting their turn to be checked, pushed about, and often turned back; young soldiers, mostly beardless boys, losing patience and lashing out indiscriminately; protesting women, with nothing to ward of the blows of rifle butts but their bruised hands; a few Jeeps speeding across the plains while others escort Jewish settlers, who to their word as though passing through a minefield.
This search for the truth takes Jaafari and the reader into places and situations they won’t soon forget, and the result is both unsettling and heartbreaking. I finished this book over a month ago but I’m still thinking about its ambiguities.