Click here to read reviewer Janelle Martin's take on The Attack.
This remarkable novel takes place in war-torn Israel, where an Arab doctor of dual citizenship seeks to live out his days in the pursuit of healing, surrounded by the immeasurable pain of random suicide bombers and a country increasingly broken into warring factions. Dr. Amin Jaafari works diligently to alleviate the suffering of others, returning home each night to a life of contentment and comfort with his beautiful wife, Sihem.
The story begins with a rocket attack, the mayhem and chaos immediate and devastating, the street littered with the wounded and dying. From there, the novel segues into the hospital in Tel Aviv, where Dr. Jaafari and his coworkers labor to save the victims of a nearby suicide bomber.
His wife, Sihem, is not at home when Jaafari returns; he thinks she has stayed another day on a visit to her grandmother, but the next day the surgeon is informed that his wife may have been the suicide bomber and is asked to identify her remains. All but her lovely face is destroyed by the explosion: “When horror strikes, the heart is always its first target.”
After three days of intense questioning, Amin is released, distraught, his ruined house put back in order but his mind infected with a need to learn the circumstances of Sihem’s final days - the woman who is now a killer of children, a keeper a secretes and a betrayer of their vows. To this end, he retraces her steps, plunging into the Palestine territories in Bethlehem, Nazareth and Jenin.
Each city is more violent than the next, and Jaafari realizes that “the reign of the absurd has ravaged everything, even the children’s faces.” Even Jenin, the city of his youth, is altered irrevocably: “Mutilated by the multiple incursions if the Israeli army, punished and revived by turns to make the pleasure last longer, the town lies sprawling amid its curses, out of breath and short of incantations.”
Suddenly a player in an historical drama with no cure and no comfort in sight, Jaafari is lost in a country torn by violence, passion and conflicting religious convictions: “The old demons have made themselves so desirable that none of the possessed wants to be free of them.” But Amin cannot undo what has been wrought by his wife’s violent act, confronted finally by the reality of the world he has failed to acknowledge in his privilege, a world where “death becomes the ultimate salvation.”
With stunning imagery and fearless prose, Jaafari walks though the fires of a personal hell in search of reason, where everywhere he turns is destruction, the name of God waving on a bloody banner: “Give God back his freedom. He’s been hostage to out bigotries too long.” This is a riveting story, the author’s passion for place and the torment of those who claim this country imbuing the novel with a resonance that remains long after the last page is turned.