Tuesday, February 17, 2009


It's been quite a while since I made an entry. Personal crises have kept me busy. First, Shelley's father got worse health-wise and ultimately ended up passing away. About the time that all happened, my daughter had a bad reaction to a change in medication and has spent days and days trying to get over that, requiring many trips to the hospital and other communications with doctors and other health care providers. She continues to flounder.

On top of all that, of course, the snow keeps falling and the normal expectations of life roll on.

Some days ago I completed reading The Attack by Yasmina Khadra. Last night I went to reading group where we discussed the book. Most in the group enjoyed the read, even though it was depressing and overwhelming to consider the consequences of the proposition presented. They felt that the narrative caused them to think and consider propositions they might not otherwise do in our American environment and coming from our Western point of view.

The protagonist is a doctor, Amin Jaafari, who works as a surgeon at the hospital in Tel Aviv in Israel. He is an Arab-Israeli citizen, a secular man, who seems to have more or less abandoned or neglected his religious roots and focused more on his profession and life in Israel than on contemplation of his past history, family, and friends in Palestine. He has set himself aside from the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians, content to have a place, things, tranquility.

One night there is an attack --- a suicide bomber --- and consequently injured people and bodies start appearing at the hospital. Dr. Jaafari is busy assessing the injured and giving assistance. One particular Jewish man, recognizing Jaafari as an Arab, says he doesn't want to be treated by him because of his heritage and genetic makeup. Ultimately, Dr. Jaafari goes home to sleep the work off and to await the return of his wife, who has taken a journey away from home to visit family.

Before he is able to catch up on his sleep and welcome his wife's return, he is called back to the hospital where he is told to look at a body. The authorities believe it is his wife, and all indications are that she was the suicide bomber. Dr. Jaafari is incredulous. At first the authorities suspect he might have known about the attack and might have been complicit in it.

The rest of the book is about Dr. Jaafari trying to figure out how or why his wife would do such a grotesque thing: killing innocent people and, in particular, children.

There are a couple of things in that endeavor that put me off.

One was that Jaafari elevated his suspicion that his wife was having an affair and needing to find out about it above and beyond his need to find out why she had become a suicide bomber. Infidelity is so commonplace everywhere in the world. Arabs and Palestinians are no more faithful in marriage than anyone else is, are they? Suicide bombing and the killing of innocent people and children is not commonplace. Even when he realizes she didn't have an affair he says, "it makes me very angry to think that she preferred a set of fundamentalists to me. And my anger doubles when I consider how I was taken in." It is all about him! Her effect upon him. It is ugly and profane. Dr. Jaafari's sense of priorities seemed skewed. He was a severely flawed character in that respect

The other flaw that put me off was the doctor's persistence in pursuing information about his deceased wife even when it was imprudent for him to do so. It isn't like the doctor could have been ignorant of their heritage or of what he and his wife had learned as youth growing up Palestinian in the dire living circumstances of their old world. His wife went home to visit her family, didn't she? Such ignorance in Dr. Jaafari didn't seem consistent with his earlier character, which the author had established as an individual worried about giving care and comfort as a doctor. He surrendered what he could do to help out to simply try and find out how his wife had betrayed him. It was all so self-centered, so inconsistent in a character designated early on in the book to be less self-centered and more inclined to serving and trying to heal others.

I didn't find the protagonist very likable at all.

Early on in the book the protagonist narrator says, "However great the damage may be, no cataclysm is going to keep the world from turning." Well, that isn't true, and he finds that out.

Some interesting narrative and metaphors:

  • A few cigarette glow in the blackness like an eruption of pimples.
  • Life, your whole life --- with its ups and downs, its pains and pleasures, its promises and failures --- hangs and has always hung by a thread as flimsy and imperceptible as the threads in a spider's web.
  • On the infinitesimal track that is starting to appear in the darkness.
  • ... look at the sea. It's a mirror that can't lie.
  • ... anger's like marriage: it doesn't always obey its own logic.
  • When I was still young, I realized that sitting between two chairs made no sense...
  • anyone who tells you that a greater symphony exists than the breath in your body is lying.
  • The city seemed to be having trouble getting out of bed.
  • And I've clung to my ambitious like a jockey to his horse.
  • ... the whole place is replete with her, as full as an egg, leaving me only a tiny pocket of air so I won't suffocate.
  • Who dreams too much and forgets to live...
  • reason has a mouth full of broken teeth, and it rejects any prosthesis capable of giving it back to smile.
  • She couldn't work on her suntan while people were bent under the Zionist yoke.
  • Existence has taught me that a man can live on love and freshwater, on crumbs and promises, but he could never survive insults.
  • There is no worse cataclysm than humiliation
  • I don't care about finding out exactly when Sihem sank into suicidal militancy or knowing whether I wronged her somehow, whether I contributed in one way or another to her ruin. All that has been pushed into the back ground. What I want to know first and foremost, what has supreme importance in my eyes, is whether or not Sihem was cheating on me.
  • Just as night begins to pull her black skirt away from the first touch of dawn
  • its hideousness isn't just a question of architecture.

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