Sunday, June 10, 2007

Yasmina Khadra's "The Attack" is up for a Dagger

I'd always considered Yasmina Khadra's crime novels about Inspector Brahim Llob of the Algiers police as something apart from his other novels — The Sirens of Baghdad, The Swallows of Kabul, Wolf Dreams, The Attack — which constitute a voyage through the Islamic world examining the corrosive effects of fear and extremism on everyday life.

Khadra apparently felt the same way, once telling an interviewer that in the Llob novels, “I dreamed of writing station books, books funny and without claim that you could read while waiting for the train or the bus, or while gilding yourself with the sun at the seaside. … I had never thought that Superintendent Llob was going to exceed the borders of the country and appeal to readers in Europe, and America.” If his crime books were not quite the same as his other books, I reasoned, then his other books must not be crime books.

Perhaps, then, Khadra shared my pleasant surprise when the Crime Writers Association in the United Kingdom short-listed The Attack for this year's Duncan Lawrie International Dagger award, alongside novels by Karin Alvtegen, Christian Jungersen, Åsa Larsson, Jo Nesbø and Fred Vargas.

The Attack is a curious kind of crime story. Its protagonist and first-person narrator, Amin Jaafari, is an Arab surgeon living comfortably and successfully in Tel Aviv who is shocked when a suicide bomb rips through a crowded restaurant, and his wife disappears at the same time. Though the novel has police as characters, the investigator is Jaafari himself, driven to find out what compelled his wife into an association with terrorists. Perhaps this is why the CWA judges called The Attack "A harrowing psychological novel which explores the motivations of a suicide bomber, and lifts the conventions of the whydunnit."

And Jaafari is a curious protagonist. The novel's first eighty or so pages contain numerous references to the effects of his wife's disappearance: "The tornado that knocked down all my supports" or "when I resolve to guard against losing control." At least in the novel's first half, though, Jaafari never seems in danger of losing his moorings. He's too vital an observer, too interested in reporting on the seething world around him to be convincing as a man in danger of falling part. And that makes him a lively investigator.

More later.

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Would you please credit the translator, without whom there would be no English version of the novel?

June 12, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The International Dagger honors both authors and translators. The winning author receives £5,000, the novel's translator £1,000.

The nominees for 2007 are:

Shame by Karin Alvtegen (Sweden), translated by Steven T. Murray

The Exception by Christian Jungersen (Denmark), translated by Anna Paterson

The Attack by Yasmina Khadra (Algeria), translated by John Cullen

The Savage Altar (aka Sun Storm) by Åsa Larsson (Sweden), translated by Marlaine Delargy

The Redbreast by Jo Nesbø (Norway), translated by Don Bartlett

Wash This Blood Clean from my Hand by Fred Vargas (France), translated by Sîan Reynolds

For more about translation on Detectives Beyond Borders, including links to articles and interviews, please visit

June 13, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

hello Peter, How goes it ?
I haven't read this book yet.
Too much blood, too much "massacres"... But I just havec bought the last Qiu Xiaolong translated in french...

June 14, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Ca va bien, et vous?

I am surprised that you have not read The Attack/L'Attenat; I have always considered you the Queen of Khadra, a reader of all his books. Yes, there is violence, but the description of the bombing that begins the novel is slow, sensual -- beautiful in its way. Also, you read The Swallows of Kabul. The opening of that book is more terrifying than the violence in The Attack, I think.

Et merci pour les souvenirs de Zim!

June 14, 2007  

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