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THE SIRENS OF BAGHDAD by Yasmina Khadra

THE SIRENS OF BAGHDAD

By Yasmina Khadra (Author) , John Cullen (Translator)

Pub Date: May 8th, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-385-52174-1
Publisher: Talese/Doubleday

The logic of terrorism is taken to a virtually ultimate extent in this bloodcurdling successor to the pseudonymous author’s highly praised novels (The Attack, 2006, etc.).

It opens in Beirut, with its unnamed narrator’s emotional condemnation of this polyglot metropolis corroded by contact with Western values. His conversations with Dr. Jalal, a renegade Arab critic of jihad “rehabilitated” as an enemy of the West, circle around the subject of the narrator’s mission—which has brought him to Lebanon from Baghdad, whence he had moved from his native Bedouin village (Kafr Karam). The story thus told as an extended flashback embraces his experiences as the son of a disabled well-digger, a hopeful university student whose future plans were casualties of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and his own “re-education” as a victim of foreign invasion. Khadra skillfully solicits our identification with him by creating a persuasively detailed picture of nearly idyllic village life, then he shreds it. The narrator observes the horrific killing of a mentally retarded neighbor whose unstable behavior is misinterpreted by American G.I.s patrolling a highway checkpoint, learns of a missile strike that decimates a wedding party and seethes during a violent search that “shames” his father and his innocent family—and sets him on a vengeful course which is planned to end in a catastrophe “more awesome” than the events of 9/11. This potent novel’s major weakness is its frequent recourse to redundant discursive religious and political argument. Its compensatory strength is in what might be called the anecdotal evidence of injustices and atrocities that motivate its protagonist’s lethal momentum. And when Khadra discloses specific details of his “mission,” the effect strikes like a thunderbolt; your hands all but turn to stone as you turn the pages.

Perhaps the most frighteningly plausible doomsday scenario yet to appear in fictional treatments of this seemingly insoluble crisis. And if it doesn’t scare the hell out of you, you’re not paying enough attention.