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  • The Attack
  • Written by Yasmina Khadra
    Translated by John Cullen
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Written by Yasmina KhadraAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Yasmina Khadra
Translated by John CullenAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by John Cullen

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On Sale: May 08, 2007
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Synopsis

From the bestselling author of The Swallows of Kabul comes this timely and haunting novel that powerfully illuminates the devastating human costs of terrorism.Dr. Amin Jaafari is an Arab-Israeli surgeon at a hospital in Tel Aviv. As an admired and respected member of his community, he has carved a space for himself and his wife, Sihem, at the crossroads of two troubled societies. Jaafari’s world is abruptly shattered when Sihem is killed in a suicide bombing.As evidence mounts that Sihem could have been responsible for the catastrophic bombing, Jaafari begins a tortured search for answers. Faced with the ultimate betrayal, he must find a way to reconcile his cherished memories of his wife with the growing realization that she may have had another life, one that was entirely removed from the comfortable, modern existence that they shared.

Excerpt

After the operation, Ezra Benhaim, our hospital director, comes to see me in my office. He's an alert, lively gentleman, despite his sixty-odd years and his increasing corpulence. Around the hospital, he's known as "the Sergeant," because he's an outrageous despot with a sense of humor that always seems to show up a little late. But when the going gets tough, he's the first to roll up his sleeves and the last to leave the shop.

Before I became a naturalized Israeli citizen, back when I was a young surgeon moving heaven and earth to get licensed, he was there. Even though he was still just a modest chief of service at the time, he used the little influence his position afforded him to keep my detractors at bay. In those days, it was hard for a son of Bedouins to join the brotherhood of the highly educated elite without provoking a sort of reflexive disgust. The other medical school graduates in my class were wealthy young Jews who wore gold chain bracelets and parked their convertibles in the hospital lot. They looked down their noses at me and perceived each of my successes as a threat to their social standing. And so, whenever one of them pushed me too far, Ezra wouldn't even want to know who started first; he took my side as a matter of course.

He pushes the door open without knocking, comes in, and looks at me with his head tilted to one side and the hint of a smile on his lips. This is his way of communicating his satisfaction. Then, after I pivot my armchair to face him, he takes off his glasses, wipes them on the front of his lab coat, and says, "It looks like you had to go all the way to the next world to bring your patient back."

"Let's not exaggerate."

He puts his glasses back on his nose, flares his unattractive nostrils, nods his head; then, after a brief meditation, his face regains its austerity. "Are you coming to the club this evening?"

"Not possible. My wife's due home tonight."

"What about our return match?"

"Which one? You haven't won a single game against me."

"You're not fair, Amin. You always take advantage of my bad days and score lots of points. But today, when I feel great, you back out."

I lean far back in my chair so I can stare at him properly. "You know what it is, my poor old Ezra? You don't have as much punch as you used to, and I hate myself for taking advantage of you."

"Don't bury me quite yet. Sooner or later, I'm going to shut you up once and for all."

"You don't need a racket for that. A simple suspension would do the trick."

He promises to think about it, brings a finger to his temple in a casual salute, and goes back to badgering the nurses in the corridors.

Once I'm alone, I try to go back to where I was before Ezra's intrusion and remember that I was about to call my wife. I pick up the phone, dial our number, and hang up again at the end of the seventh ring. My watch reads 1:12 p.m. If Sihem took the nine o'clock bus, she should have arrived home some time ago.

"You worry too much!" cries Dr. Kim Yehuda, surprising me by bursting into my cubbyhole. Continuing without pause, she says, "I knocked before I came in. You were lost in space. . . ."

"I'm sorry, I didn't hear you."

She dismisses my apology with a haughty hand, observes my furrowing brow, and asks, "Were you calling your house?"

"I can hide nothing from you."

"And, obviously, Sihem hasn't come home yet?"

Her insight irritates me, but I've learned to live with it. We've known each other since we were at the university together. We weren't in the same class--I was about three years ahead of her--but we hit it off right away. She was beautiful and spontaneous and far more open-minded than the other students, who had to bite their tongues a few times before they'd ask an Arab for a light, even if he was a brilliant student and a handsome lad to boot. Kim had an easy laugh and a generous heart. Our romance was brief and disconcertingly naïve. I suffered enormously when a young Russian god, freshly arrived from his Komsomol, came and stole her away from me. Good sport that I was, I didn't put up any fight. Later, I married Sihem, and then, without warning, very shortly after the Soviet empire fell apart, the Russian went back home; but we've remained excellent friends, Kim and I, and our close collaboration has forged a powerful bond between us.

"It's the end of the holiday today," she reminds me. "The roads are jammed. Have you tried to reach her at her grandmother's?"

"There's no telephone at the farm."

"Call her on her mobile phone."

"She forgot it at home again."

She spreads out her arms in resignation: "That's bad luck."

"For whom?"

She raises one magnificent eyebrow and shakes a warning finger at me. "The tragedy of certain well-intentioned people," she declares, "is that they don't have the courage of their commitments, and they fail to follow their ideas to their logical conclusion."

"The time is right," I say, rising from my chair. "The operation was very stressful, and we need to regain our strength. . . ."

Grabbing her by the elbow, I push her into the corridor. "Walk on ahead, my lovely. I want to see all the wonders you're pulling behind you."

"Would you dare repeat that in front of Sihem?"

"Only imbeciles never change their minds."

Kim's laughter lights up the hospital corridor like a garland of bright flowers in a home for the dying.

* * *

In the canteen, Ilan Ros joins us just as we're finishing our lunch. He sets his overloaded tray on the table and places himself on my right so that he's facing Kim. His jowls are scarlet, and he's wearing a loose apron over his Pantagruelian belly. He begins by gobbling up three slices of cold meat in quick succession and then wipes his mouth on a paper napkin. "Are you still looking for a second house?" he asks me amid a lot of voracious smacking.

"That depends on where it is."

“I think I’ve come up with something for you. Not far from Ashkelon. A pretty little villa with just what you need to tune out completely.”

My wife and I have been looking for a small house on the seashore for more than a year. Sihem loves the sea. Every other weekend, my hospital duties permitting, we get into our car and head for the beach. We walk on the sand for a long time, and then we climb a dune and stare at the horizon until late in the night. Sunsets exercise a degree of fascination on Sihem that I've never been able to get to the bottom of.

"You think I can afford it?" I ask.

Ilan Ros utters a brief laugh, and his crimson neck shakes like gelatin. "Amin, you haven't put your hand in your pocket for so long that I figure you must have plenty socked away. Surely enough to make at least half of your dreams come true . . ."

Suddenly, a tremendous explosion shakes the walls of the canteen and sets the glasses tinkling. Everyone in the place looks at one another, puzzled, and then those close to the picture windows get up from their tables and peer out. Kim and I rush to the nearest window. Outside, the people at work in the hospital courtyard are standing still, with their faces turned toward the north. The facades of the buildings across the way prevent us from seeing farther.

"That's got to be a terrorist attack," someone says.

Kim and I run out into the corridor. A group of nurses is already coming up from the basement and racing toward the lobby. Judging from the force of the shock wave, I'd say the explosion couldn't have gone off very far away. A security guard switches on his transceiver to inquire about the situation. The person he's talking to doesn't know any more than he does. We storm the elevator, get out on the top floor, and hurry to the terrace overlooking the south wing of the building. A few curious people are already there, gazing out, with their hands shading their eyes. They're looking in the direction of a cloud of smoke rising about a dozen blocks from the hospital.

A security guard speaks into his radio: "It's coming from the direction of Hakirya," he says. "A bomb, maybe a suicide bomber. Or a booby-trapped vehicle. I have no information. All I can see is smoke coming from whatever the target was."

"We have to go back down," Kim tells me.

"You're right. We have to get ready to receive the first evacuees."

Ten minutes later, bits of information combine to evoke a veritable carnage. Some people say a bus was blown up; others say it was a restaurant. The hospital switchboard is practically smoking. We've got a red alert.

Ezra Benhaim orders the crisis-management team to stand by. Nurses and surgeons go to the emergency room, where stretchers and gurneys are arranged in a frenetic but orderly carousel. This isn't the first time that Tel Aviv's been shaken by a bomb, and after each experience our responders operate with increased efficiency. But an attack remains an attack. It wears you down. You manage it technically, not humanely. Turmoil and terror aren't compatible with sangfroid. When horror strikes, the heart is always its first target.

I reach the emergency room in my turn. Ezra's in command there, his face pallid, his mobile phone glued to his ear. With one hand, he tries to direct the preparations for surgical interventions.

"A suicide bomber blew himself up in a restaurant," he announces. "There are many dead and many more wounded. Evacuate wards three and four, and prepare to receive the first victims. The ambulances are on the way."

Kim, who's been in her office doing her own telephoning, catches up with me in ward five. This is where the most gravely wounded will be sent. Sometimes the operating room's too crowded, and surgery is performed on the spot. Three other surgeons and I check the various pieces of equipment. Nurses are busy around the operating tables, making nimble, precise movements.

Kim proceeds to turn on the machines. As she does so, she informs me that there are at least eleven people dead.

Sirens are wailing outside. The first ambulances invade the hospital courtyard. I leave Kim with the machines and rejoin Ezra in the lobby. The cries of the wounded echo through the wards. A nearly naked woman, as enormous as her fright, twists around on a stretcher. The stretcher-bearers carrying her are having a hard time calming her down. She passes in front of me, with her hair standing up and her eyes bulging. Immediately behind her, a young boy arrives, covered with blood but still breathing. His face and arms are black, as though he's just come up out of a coal mine. I take hold of his gurney and wheel him to one side to keep the passage free. A nurse comes to help me.

"His hand is gone!" she cries.

"This is no time to lose your nerve," I tell her. "Put a tourniquet on him and take him to the operating room immediately. There's not a minute to spare."

"Very well, Doctor."

"Are you sure you'll be all right?"

"Don't worry about me, Doctor. I'll manage."

In the course of fifteen minutes, the lobby of the emergency room is transformed into a battlefield. No fewer than a hundred wounded people are packed into this space, the majority of them lying on the floor. All the gurneys are loaded with broken bodies, many horribly riddled with splinters and shards, some suffering from severe burns in several places. The whole hospital echoes with wailing and screaming. From time to time, a single cry pierces the din, underlining the death of a victim. One of them dies in my hands without giving me time to examine him. Kim informs me that the operating room is now completely full and that we have to start channeling the most serious cases to ward five. A wounded man demands to be treated immediately. His back is flayed from one end to the other, and part of one bare shoulder blade is showing. When he sees that no one is coming to his aid, he grabs a nurse by the hair. It takes three strapping young men to make him let go. A little farther on, another injured man, his body covered with cuts, screams and thrashes about madly, lunging so hard that he falls off his stretcher, which is wedged between two gurneys. He lies on the floor and slashes with his fists at the empty air. The nurse who's trying to care for him looks overwhelmed. Her eyes light up when she notices me.

"Oh, Dr. Amin. Hurry, hurry. . . ."

Suddenly, the injured man stiffens; his groans, his convulsions, his flailing all cease at once, his body grows still, and his arms fall across his chest, like a puppet whose strings have just been cut. In a split second, the expression of pain on his flushed features changes to a look of dementia, a mixture of cold rage and disgust. When I bend over him, he glowers at me menacingly, his teeth bared in a ferocious grimace. He pushes me away with a fierce thrust of his hand and mutters, "I don't want any Arab touching me. I'd rather croak."

I seize his wrist and force his arm down to his side. "Hold him tight," I tell the nurse. "I'm going to examine him."

"Don't touch me," the injured man says, trying to rise. "I forbid you to lay a hand on me."

He spits at me, but he's breathless, and his saliva lands on his chin, viscid and shimmering. Furious tears start spilling over his eyelids. I remove his jacket. His stomach is a spongy mass of pulped flesh that contracts whenever he makes an effort. He's lost a great deal of blood, and his cries only serve to intensify his hemorrhaging.

"He has to be operated on right away."

I signal to a male nurse to help me put the injured man back on his stretcher. Then, pushing aside the gurneys blocking our path, I make for the operating room. The patient stares at me, his hate-filled eyes on the point of rolling back into his head. He tries to protest, but his contortions have worn him out. Prostrate and helpless, he turns his head away so he won't have to look at me and surrenders to the drowsiness he can no longer resist.


From the Hardcover edition.
Yasmina Khadra|John Cullen|Author Q&A

About Yasmina Khadra

Yasmina Khadra - The Attack

Photo © Ulf Andersen

Yasmina Khadra is the nom de plume of the former Algerian army officer Mohammed Moulessehoul. He is the author of six other books published in English, among them The Attack and The Swallows of Kabul, In the Name of God, and Wolf Dreams. He took the feminine pseudonym to avoid submitting his manuscripts for approval by military censors while he was still in the army. He lives in Aix-en-Provence, France.

About John Cullen

John Cullen - The Attack

Photo © Joy von Tiedemann

John Cullen in the translator of more than fifteen books from the French, Italian, German, and Spanish. He began his association with Nan A. Talese/Doubleday in 1995 and his translations for the imprint include Susanna Tamaro's Follow Your Heart from the Italian, Christa Wolf's Medea from the German, and Henning Boetius's The Phoenix from the German. Last year, two of his translations were short-listed for The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award: Margaret Mazzantini's Don't Move from the Italian and Yasmina Khadra's The Swallows of Kabul from the French.

Cullen is the also the co-author with Alexandra de Borchgrave of Villard: The Life and Times of an American Titan and is a freelance scout for foreign books. He received his bachelor's and master's degrees in English from Loyola University and University of Virginia respectively, and earned a Ph.D. in English Literature from the University of Texas. A year of full-time university teaching after graduate school gave him the urge to travel, and he set out on the first of a series of sojourns in Europe, living in Paris, Rome, Vienna, and Madrid, among other places, which for a time included his dauntless little Fiat Panda; these sojourns generally ended after his contributions to various European economies had reduced him to penury, a process that took anywhere from eighteen months to three years. Originally from New Orleans, John Cullen lives in Millbrook, New York, with the writer Valerie Martin.

Author Q&A

Copyright 2006 Newspaper Publishing PLC
All Rights Reserved
The Independent (London)

July 7, 2006 Friday
First Edition

BYLINE: GERRY FEEHILY

   It's a very hot day in Aix-en-Provence, and at the crowded ter-rasse of Le Festival on the Cours Mirabeau, the city's main thoroughfare, harried waiters rush around with expressions on their faces which say "Not now". Here sits Mohammed Mousselehoul: a former Algerian army officer in his early fifties, short, trim, his skin a copper color after a trip to the West Indies. There's something of the army in the vigor of his handshake. Despite his large, tinted glasses, you glimpse in the eyes some of the melancholy and combativeness of his country, still convalescing after a decade-long civil war to which he was a close witness.

   Mousselehoul is better known by another name: Yasmina Khadra, the author of some of the most ambitious fiction to come out of France in recent years. He has found admirers in Nobel Prize winner J.M. Coetzee, with whom he shares a dislike for the easy consensual read. For instance, his most recent novel on Palestinian terrorism, The Attack, was recently passed over by the Goncourt Prize jury in favor of another polite snooze written on the Left Bank in Paris. France might have fallen in love once more with its ethnically diverse football team, but its reality remains depressingly unchanged. Arab authors, particularly those who dare to write relevant books, have to work twice as hard for half the reward.

   Perhaps that's not so hard if the vocation is there? The man who became " Yasmina Khadra" was born in Kenad-sa, in the Sahara, in 1955. His mother, of nomadic origins, was her tribe's chief storyteller. As Algeria began its struggle for independence from France, his father, then a nurse, joined the ALN (Algerian National Liberation Army). Of the war, Khadra has few memories. "I was too young," he says. A few minutes later, however, he leans forward to show a scar on the top of his crown. "A French soldier was trying to disperse a crowd. He cracked me over the head with his rifle butt. And broke my skull."

   His father, now an officer, enrolled him in the army, or rather the Soviet-inspired School of the Cadets of the Revolution, when he was nine. It's a shock described in his 2001 book, The Writer, and one for which his father was never quite forgiven. But perhaps perfect childhoods don't make for writers. "I was first a reader, devoted to Arabic poetry," he remembers. "As a teenager I discovered Kafka and Gogol. Camus overwhelmed me. From then on I was in love with the novel, in love with the French language. French structured me, and was always my absolute in moments of the greatest solitude. I became a writer."

   In newly independent Algeria, imbued with Soviet orthodoxies and Soviet paranoia, writers were isolated. In the army a literary vocation was a heresy. Having fallen foul of the hierarchy with his earliest short stories, he ran into trouble as soon as he began publishing his first novels, under his own name, in the 1980s. Not least, because they portrayed an Algeria where a jaded, corrupt power was rapidly losing ground to Islamic fundamentalism. "In 1988, I was brought before a tribunal. As an officer, I already exerted considerable self-censorship. The situation was becoming unbearable."

   His wife suggested a solution. "During those years, she was always my first reader, if not the only one I could confide my manuscripts to. She suggested that I take a pseudonym. She said, 'When I married you, I took your name for life. What if you took mine, for posterity?' So I went into clandestinity."

   This was not without problems. By 1999, with the publication of Morituri, set in the Algeria caught in the throes of civil war and fundamentalism, Yasmina Khadra had become Algeria's foremost author, and the subject of much media speculation. "She", or rather he, would do interviews by fax only.

   In 2000 he was sufficiently well off to retire from the army. "In the army, your life is not your own. Nevertheless, it was enriching for me as a writer. Living with hundreds of people all the time, you learn to grasp character in an instant - who is sly, who is brave, who is wicked."

   After a brief stay with wife and family in Mexico City, he moved to Aix-en-Provence. From this well-heeled, rather conservative town which has yet to honor its most famous author with an official reception, he revealed, with the 2001 publication of The Writer, his true identity to the French public. Yet he continues to publish under his wife's name. "It's not just a tribute to her, but to Arab womanhood in general. In some Arab countries, women account for as much as 60 per cent of the population, and are still completely marginalized."

   Indeed, Khadra's women are richly rendered. This is much in evidence in The Swallows of Kabul (2004), shortlisted for the IMPAC prize. The main female characters of this novel set in Afghanistan in the run-up to the attacks of September 11th, 2001 - Zunaira, a former lawyer revolted by the burkha she must wear, and the traditionalist Mussarat, terminally ill and married to a boorish prison guard -are more alive, more loving, than their menfolk benumbed by the desolate idiocy of Taliban rule.

   The Swallows of Kabul is the first in a trilogy in which Khadra sets out to describe the contemporary Orient, in particular the galvanizing power of Islamic fundamentalism. "There is a tremendous ignorance in the West about Arab and Islamic culture, whereas in the Orient, both the Bedouin nomad and the terrorist know what's going on over here, what films Westerners watch, how they think. We are in the middle of the worst misunderstanding to befall our two cultures. I wish to take the Western reader into that other world."

   Second in the trilogy, The Attack (translated by John Cullen) is probably Khadra's most ambitious novel to date. Amin Jaafiri is an Israeli citizen of Palestinian origins: a successful surgeon in Tel Aviv, he is feted by Israeli society as a model of successful assimilation. On the day of a suicide bomb attack, he treats patients who spit in his face, only to learn later that it's his adored wife who has blown herself up.

   "The Israel/Palestine conflict destabilizes not just the Middle East, but the entire world," its author says. "On both sides it shows up man at his most wicked and bestial. The figure of Amin, a naturalized Israeli citizen whose wife cannot share in his happiness because her own happiness is rendered meaningless by the sickening conditions the Palestinians must endure, seemed the best way to encapsulate the problem."

   We follow Amin as he spins out of Israeli society. Nursed back to life by a Jewish colleague, Kim Yehuda, he flees police investigators to go to Bethlehem, seeking to meet the movement for whom his wife was willing to offer up her life. The outcome of these encounters is far from conclusive, but their power is in the lucidity and the intelligence of the terrorists Amin despises.

   Khadra says that "During the Algerian civil war, I was in charge of a unit specializing in counter-terrorism. Make no mistake - terrorists are rational people... To portray them as mad, unhinged individuals, as is most often the case in the West, is to nourish the problem."

   On its publication in the US, The Attack was considered by several commentators to be an apology for terrorism. Its Jewish characters, they argued, were not sympathetic enough. True, no ultra-Orthodox settlers rush out to make their Palestinian neighbors glasses of mint tea, but contemporary Israel is hardly a society at ease with itself. Khadra is scandalized by such criticisms. "In Algeria, I saw comrades blown apart so badly you could only pick them up with a tiny spoon. If people wish to destroy my work with such remarks, let them: 36 years in the army couldn't break me."

   In September this year, the final part of the trilogy, The Sirens of Baghdad, will be published in France. As a portrait of a young Bedouin who grows to despise the American occupation of Iraq, it's bound to be the subject of polemic - as well as one of the most important books to be published in Europe this year. "We are living in an age where much of the media coverage of the Orient is lies and fabulation," he says, "driven by an ideology that Arabs are barbarous, Westerners civilized. The soldiers who drag Arab women from their beds at night, however, have nothing on Neolithic man... In the end, the novel is a tool, an instrument, which makes truth accessible. Only fiction tells the truth."


From the Hardcover edition.

Praise

Praise

“Engrossing…audaciously conceived, courageously important [and] urgently humane, The Attack is Khadra’s best and most ambitious novel yet.” —The Los Angeles Time“A genuine work of art.” —The Philadelphia Inquirer“Gripping, dynamic. . . .Both a fierce rendering of geopolitical tensions and a plea for peace.” —Tne New York Times “A powerfully dark vision . . . of the [Arab-Israeli] conflict.” —The New Yorker“An engaging glimpse into the kinds of stories we never hear on CNN.” —TimeOut Chicago
Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions|Suggestions

About the Book

NATIONAL BESTSELLER

“Engrossing. . . . Audaciously conceived, courageously important [and] urgently humane, The Attack is Khadra’s best and most ambitious novel yet.”
Los Angeles Times

The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your group’s reading of Yasmina Khadra’s The Attack, the timely and haunting novel from the bestselling author of The Swallows of Kabul.

About the Guide

Dr. Amin Jaafari is an Arab-Israeli surgeon at a hospital in Tel Aviv. As an admired and respected member of his community, he has carved a space for himself and his wife, Sihem, at the crossroads of two troubled societies. Jaafari’s world is abruptly shattered when Sihem is killed in a suicide bombing.

As evidence mounts that Sihem could have been responsible for the catastrophic bombing, Jaafari begins a tortured search for answers. Faced with the ultimate betrayal, he must find a way to reconcile his cherished memories of his wife with the growing realization that she may have had another life, one that was entirely removed from the comfortable, modern existence that they shared.

About the Author

Yasmina Khadra is the nom de plume of the former Algerian army officer Mohammed Moulessehoul, who is the author of three other books published in English: The Swallows of Kabul, In the Name of God, and Wolf Dreams. He lives in France.

Discussion Guides

1. What was your reaction to the novel’s powerful opening scene? How did your perception of this scene shift as the narrator’s life later unfolded for you?

2. What were your initial perceptions of Amin and Sihem’s marriage? Whom did you trust during the interrogation in chapter four?

3. Why does Kim remain so supportive of Amin? In what way is her friendship different from Navid’s? Why are they more patient with him than most of their colleagues are?

4. Discuss the very concept of an attack, which forms the novel’s title. What is the nature of the attacks that take place in the book, including not only the terrorist explosions but also the beating Amin receives when he tries to return to home. What emotional and psychological attacks take place? What motivates the novel’s numerous attackers?

5. How were you affected by the structure of the novel, including the author’s use of present tense, the first-person narration, and the way the timeline unfolds? What makes fiction itself a useful form in examining horrific realities?

6. Revisit the passages that emphasize two of the novel’s elderly characters: Kim’s grandfather, Old Yehuda, who in chapter six recalls Hitler’s rise; and in chapter sixteen, Omr, Amin’s great-uncle, who recalls the destruction of family orchards to make way for an Israeli colony. What do Yehuda and Omr reveal about the history of violence, not only in the Middle East but throughout humanity?

7. At the end of chapter seven, Amin tells Kim he has no idea why he did not tell Navid about the letter. In your opinion, why did he keep the receipt of Sihem’s letter a secret?

8. In the novel’s latter chapters, Amin believes his wife was having a romantic affair with Adel. What parallels exist between her actual liaisons with him and the infidelities usually associated with adultery? Was Sihem seduced?

9. In chapter nine, Amin’s taxi driver lauds a militant imam and plays one of his recordings. What elements of persuasion did you detect in the imam’s diatribe? What similar tactics are used by religious and political leaders in other circumstances around the world?

10. In chapter eleven, the imam at the Grand Mosque tells Amin, “The margin between assimilation and disintegration is quite narrow. There’s not much room for maneuver” [p. 150]. Do you agree? Is assimilation a dangerous goal? Knowing what you do about Amin’s upbringing, is it surprising that he was an advocate for assimilation? Does assimilation require a secular society?

11. What is Amin’s goal in investigating the truth about Sihem himself, and confronting those who assisted her, rather than letting the Israeli authorities handle it? In the end, has he achieved his quest?

12. Adel and the militants Amin encounters emphasize their anger about being humiliated, saying emotional and cultural destruction are just as devastating as physical destruction. What do these observations imply about solutions for peace? What did you learn from the novel–not only about daily life in the Middle East but also about the prospects for peace?

13. The author is a retired army officer from Algeria, a former French colony. After he won a small French literary prize for a collection of short stories, his writing came to the attention of Algerian army officials and he was forced to submit future works to army censors. Thus, he created a female pseudonym to avoid censorship. He now lives in France and has since revealed his true name, Mohammed Moulessehoul. In what way did his life prepare him to write The Attack? Would your impressions of the novel have been different had you thought the author was female?

14. Compare The Attack to the author’s previous novel, The Swallows of Kabul, which is set in Afghanistan during the Taliban’s rule. In what ways do these novels complement each other? How do the dynamics of marriage play out in each of these books?

Suggested Readings

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Half of a Yellow Sun; Irene Nemirovsky, Suite Française; Richard Condon, The Manchurian Candidate; John Updike, Terrorist; Michael Ondaatje, In The Skin of A Lion; Kiran Desai, The Inheritance of Loss: A Novel; Vikram Chandra, Sacred Games; Claire Messud, The Emperor's Children; Orhan Pamuk, Snow; Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns; Andrew O'Hagan, Be Near Me; A. B. Yehoshua, A Woman in Jerusalem; Gabriel García Márquez, Chronicle of a Death Foretold; Geraldine Brooks, March: A Novel; Rory Stewart, The Places In Between; Shan Sa,
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