Yasmina Khadra is the pseudonym for Mohamed Moulessehoul, a former Algerian army officer who decided to write under his wife’s name to avoid army censorship. He was in Sydney last year for the Writers’ Festival, at which he spoke about his novel The Swallows of Kabul. It was set in Afghanistan, but he confessed that he had never been there before, and I couldn’t help but wonder how he described the land and the atmosphere of oppression.
Reading The Attack, I wondered the same thing. While there is little description of surroundings, and Khadra is a very capable writer, I doubted he had ever been there. This doesn’t weaken the book so much as emphasise that his narration is an outsider’s voice. This is apt given that his main protagonist, through whom the story is told in first person, behaves very much like a neutral observer in the raging Israeli-Palestinian conflict – that is, until a horrifying event forces painful re-examination.
Dr Amin Jaafari is a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship. He is an incredibly successful surgeon, awarded numerous honours and living a seemingly idyllic life with his beloved wife, Sihem. They have a beautiful house, but no children. They have strong friendships with Israelis, absorbing a lifestyle that rejects a traditional approach; they’re not practising Muslims. Amin and Sihem are ostensibly the best examples of integration, and despite some tension in the hospital, Amin is blissfully unaware of differences. If we are to believe him, his wife is generally satisfied too.