“How could she?” That’s the question haunting an eminent Arab Israeli surgeon, whose wife has become the latest suicide bomber. Khadra (pseudonym of a retired Algerian army officer) moves from Algeria (Wolf Dreams, 2003) and Afghanistan (The Swallows of Kabul, 2004) to Israel/Palestine.
A huge explosion kills 19 people, 11 of them schoolchildren, in a fast-food restaurant in Tel Aviv. Amin Jaafari operates on the injured before returning to his beautiful home, under the illusion that his wife Sihem is visiting her grandmother’s farm. Then he gets a call to identify her body in the morgue and is interrogated by the cops for three days before being cleared. Amin is still in denial; after all, they were a close, loving couple, they were not practicing Muslims, and most of their friends were Jews. Only when he finds a note from her implying her guilt does he accept the truth. He is attacked by a mob outside his home and is given shelter by a fellow doctor and old flame, Kim Yehuda. Desperately confused and angry, Amin drives to Bethlehem; that is where Sihem had mailed her note. He exposes himself to danger by forcing a meeting with the radical imam, but gets nowhere; Kim sympathetically points out that he needs a shrink more than a sheikh. But Amin feels betrayed, doubly so when he suspects, on flimsy evidence, that Sihem was having an affair with his nephew Adel, whom he tracks down in Jenin after scary encounters with Intifada leaders. Yes, says Adel, Sihem had been part of an Intifada cell; no, they were never lovers. Khadra keeps the story moving at a good clip, but there’s a flaw at its center; how could Amin’s intimate marriage have contained such a devastating secret? Sihem is a shadowy figure, and her freelance self-destruction, opposed by her cell, is unconvincing. Amin’s question is never satisfyingly answered.
The action is always convincing, the relationships less so.