This novel has a plot with a momentous premise—a successful Israeli surgeon of Bedouin descent in Tel Aviv who tries to comprehend that his wife not only led a secret life of which he didn’t have the slightest knowledge, but blew herself up in a restaurant amidst a group of children celebrating a birthday party.
And it has an author whose insistence on keeping his female persona even after the reason for acquiring this nom de plume—avoiding military censorship—has become obsolete, I admire.
The problem with Yasmina Khadra’s The Attack is that this novel is not well written. Its metaphors and especially the descriptive expressions of pain and agony commute between well-worn and outright generic, the structure is uneven and the storyline predictable, and all the minor characters are stock material.[Note: Here Be Spoilers.]
And yes, it is biased against Jews. But I’m reluctant to situate this bias in the text, or in its author. It seems to me that it is the first-person narrator who is biased—who, by all means, is or comes across as what I would call a self-centered prick. He is so absorbed in his own pain and his feelings of “betrayal” that he never realizes how skewed his perspective is toward his Jewish friends who, that much can be said, genuinely care for him. Nor does he realize that there are more dimensions to the assault; the victims and the pain of these victims’ friends and families always hover just outside the horizon of his efforts at coming to terms with his own pain, his incomprehension, and his feelings of betrayal.
Looking for the very “clues” he thinks he must have missed, the first-person narrator misses the most important and most visible clue of all: his utter and unmitigated self-centeredness. But it is exactly at this point that the texts’ many problems come into full effect: Khadra, it has to be said, fails to signal, subtly or overly, that there is an unreliable narrator, and his writing just isn’t good enough to get away with it. Thus, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that many readers confuse the various viewpoints, and project the narrator’s biases and self-centeredness onto its author.