yasmina“A man’s life is worth much more than any sacrifice, no matter how great,” he declares, looking me in the eye. “For the greatest, the most just, the noblest cause on earth is the right to live. “

Sometimes I think there should be a ten-star grading system in goodreads.com instead of a five-star one. I often find myself changing my opinion of a given book because I read something else afterwards, which was much better, and yet I had to give it the same score. I began thinking about that after reading Yasmina Khadra’s The Attack. I really, really wanted to give it five stars because I was so mesmerized by the plot I had to stay until 4 o’clock before an exam just to finish. On the other hand, I simply cannot give it five stars because this would mean equating it to my Holy Trinity: Fitzgerald, Marquez and Remarque. So The Attack indeed gets four stars, but, if I may say so, better four stars than the others I have given.

Yasmina Khadra is not as one might expect one beautiful Algerian woman with silky hair and black eyes. Yasmina Khadra is in fact a man. Mohammed Moulessehoul, a major from the Algerian army, wrote under the name of his wife to avoid censorship in his home country. Only in 2001, when he had safely emigrated to France, did he reveal his true identity.

I have always been intrigued by suicide bombers. As an average human being, living in an average free from war country and having average and not extreme beliefs, I find it incomprehensible why someone would ever sacrifice their life for such a cause. And in the process kill many others. I have obviously heard of religious fanaticism and yet it doesn’t in any way make sense to me. The Attack is the first step in trying to understand what is going on in the minds of these people. Understand, perhaps, accept – never.

Amin Jaafari is a successful doctor in Tel Aviv, who, despite his Arabic origins, has managed to get an Israeli citizenship and to establish himself among the most prominent citizens of Tel Aviv. He has a loving wife, a successful career, and a seemingly perfect life. All of that changes once he discovers that his wife is the suicide bomber who killed tens of people in a restaurant in the middle of the day. Jaafari must not only deal with the death of his wife but he also must accept that he never really knew her, and most importantly, that she was never happy with him.

The Attack follows the journey of a man who has separated himself from his roots in a search for a better life. Jaafari is a doctor – he is in the business, so to speak, of saving other people’s lives. It is ever more difficult for him to come at peace with the mere fact that his wife is in the business of taking other people’s lives. As he travels Israel and Palestine, Jaafari confronts the past and the people he left behind and attempts to understand the reasoning behind their sacrifice.

Yasmina Khadra doesn’t judge. He presents the two points of view. The point of view of the peaceful doctor Amin, who worked very hard to be successful. And the point of view of his relatives in Palestine, for whom death as martyrs is preferred to life as prisoners. As Amin explores the decision of his wife, he comes at odds with his people, for whom he is as much a traitor, as his wife is to him. At this point I must admit Yasmina Khadra is indeed brilliant. He presents the reasons of the Palestinian fundamentalists with such vigor that at one point I found myself nodding in agreement. Well, of course they are going to blow themselves up. Of course they want to be free. Of course they will sacrifice their life for their country.

And yet, no. Nothing justifies taking your own life and taking the life of others in the process.

There is nothing, absolutely nothing, more important than your life. And your life isn’t more important than other people’s lives.

Whatever the circumstances (of which I am not an expert), whatever the conditions, you are not excused in killing others for a cause. I know that, and yet, while reading, I couldn’t help but sympathize with those Palestinians fighters and I couldn’t help but accuse the doctor for fleeing this life for a better one and for failing to notice his wife is unhappy. On a general, moral note, I don’t think so, of course. However, Khadra’s writing is powerful. He is an Algerian after all and a soldier. Having participated in the Algerian Civil War, the author draws on his experience to portray a world where there is no right and there is no wrong – there is simply war.

Favourite quotes:

“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 ideals to their logical conclusion.”

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Only imbeciles never change their minds.

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In this kind of implosion, if you don’t react very quickly, you lose control of absolutely everything. You become a spectator of your own collapse, and you don’t realize that the abyss is about to close over you forever.

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Whenever I can’t see you, I die a little.

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A man who looks at the sea turns his back on the misfortunes of the world. Somehow, he resigns himself to them.

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I’ll never understand why the survivors of a tragedy feel compelled to make people believe they’re more to be pitied that the ones who didn’t make it.

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Anyone who tells you that a greater symphony exists than the breath in your body is lying.

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When dreams are turned away, death becomes the ultimate salvation.

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They can take everything you own – your property, your best years, all your joys, all your good works, everything down to your last shirt – but you’ll always have your dreams, so you can reinvent your stolen world.