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The German Mujahid, by Boualem Sansal

Book Review:

Wednesday 15 January 2014, by siawi3

The German Mujahid [Paperback]
Boualem Sansal (Author), Frank Wynne (Translator)



While Europe Slept
13 Sep 2009
By Judith Paley - Published on

Move over Bruce Bawer, you’ve got a novel companion to your eye-opening expose “While Europe Slept” (Broadway Books, 2006). Algerian author Boualem Sansal’s 2008 novel “Le Village de L’Allemand ou Le Journal de Freres Schiller” has been translated into English and newly released as “The German Mujahid.” The infiltration of European cities by militant Islamists, as chronicled in meticulous detail by Bawer, is now semi-fictionalized (the jacket tells us this story is based on a true one) and, therefore, becomes more immediately recognizable as a here-and-now threat to France, Western Europe, and the world.

Sansal, however, goes beyond the present—1996 that is—and sends Rachel Schiller, the 33 year old son of a Nazi war criminal, on a trek through Europe and North Africa as told through entries in his diary. Rachel is in search of an explanation for his father’s horrific deeds and is desperate to reconcile this monster to the man he knew as a loving father and an Algerian freedom fighter. Rachel’s teenage brother Malrich reads the diary and retraces his brother’s journey, in search of his own peace of mind and also a need to escape the oppressive infiltration of his Parisian neighborhood by militant jihadists.

Two brothers, both in agony, move through two continents, one attempting to atone for the sins of his father, the other coming to grips with both the realities of the Holocaust and the increasingly violent stranglehold of Islamists working to build an Islamic nation in the suburbs of Paris.

Bawer notes that these discontented occupants of Parisian housing projects, veritable ghettos of North African immigrants, are “a looming challenge to twenty-first century European prosperity, stability, and democracy.” Sansal, who clearly knows his way around the ’hood, says, through Malrich, that “the estate has become unrecognisable. What was a Sensitive Urban Area, Category 1 has become a concentration camp.” And in exploring the thin border between Nazism and Islamism, has placed himself, we may assume, in a rather precarious position in his native Algiers.

Malrich is consoled by his friend who advises him “It is mektoub, Malek, it is fate, we must accept it.” Malrich answers “It’s not mektoub, Mimed. It’s us, we’re the problem.” Depressing? Oh yeah, most definitely. But Rachel reminds us that at every moment of our life, we have a choice. And Santayana, of course, told us “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

This is a must-read book. And pick up “While Europe Slept” while you’re ordering.

As modern as today’s headlines and layered with meanings far beyond the storyline.
27 Sep 2009
By Linda Linguvic - Published on

This 228-page novel tells the story of two Algerian brothers living in France who discover that their father was a Nazi. The book is in the form of diaries of the two brothers and explores the contrast between the holocaust and modern Islamic fundamentalism. Published in French in 2008 and recently translated into English the author has a unique voice that is as modern as today’s headlines and layered with meanings far beyond the seemingly simple storyline. Once I picked it up, I literally could not put it down.

The older brother gives up his good job in a multi-national corporation to explore his father’s life. He travels back to his own birthplace in Algeria and then visits all the places of horror connected with the extermination camps as well as Egypt and Turkey where his father found sanctuary after the Nazi war criminals were being hunted down. Later, the younger brother goes on a quest of his own and also travels to Algeria. But most of his story is rooted in the Muslim ghetto in France, which is being taken over by more and more dogmatic religious fanatics.

The author does not spare the reader the detailed descriptions of the cruelties of the past and the horrible potential for the future. But it ends with a small spark of hope and it is clear why he wrote this book. As I was reading the book I thought it had the voice of a young man. However, when I looked up the author I discovered he was born in Algeria in 1949 and began writing novels at age 50 after retiring from his job as a high ranking official in Algerian government. He lives in Algeria with his wife and children and his writing is internationally acclaimed although his books are banned in his own country. Hopefully, he will continue this kind of writing which clearly can make a difference in the world.

I give this book one of my highest recommendations even though it will be much too brutal for some.

A tale of two brothers
24 Sep 2009
By Eagle Vision - Published on

This review is based upon reading an Advanced Reader’s Copy. The final published version may differ.

This is a tale of two brothers, Michel and Rachel.

Written in the first-person perspective from both young men, the story unfolds. Rachel the successful and hardworking older brother, tries to understand his father’s past by retracing his father’s footsteps. We discover through Michel’s diary, a journey filled with his father’s dark past as a Nazi SS officer and his assimilation into life as an Algerian, converting to the Islamic faith. Can Rachel deal with the truth? How does a son atone for the sins of his father?

The younger brother, Michel, is an underachiever who has limited involvement with own family, preferring to spend time with his friends. He experiences the changes occurring in his community, a Muslim ghetto in France, as a small group of Fundamentalists impose their beliefs upon the citizens. He is sickened by the brutality and radicalism that tear his community apart. As Michel reads Rachel’s diary, he learns about his brother, his search for truth and his struggles with atonement. Through the revelation of their father’s role as a Nazi officer, he sees the similarities between events of the Holocaust and the rise of Islamic Fundamentalism in Algeria leading to the death of countless people. How does the younger brother deal with the knowledge that his father, through his duties in Nazi Germany, played a role that lead to the death of so many people? How does he finally deal with the turmoil in his own community.

We see how the two men deal with the truth of their father’s past.

The story is difficult to follow, at times, because of Michel’s fragmented sentence structure and the lack of historical context. Also, terminology was frequently undefined. I would recommend in the final version to have references for the historical context covering Algeria, a background about the ghettos in France and a ’glossary’ (or footnote) of terminology. I do realize that this is an English version whereby some words may be lost in translation or the context may be understand by readers of the native language.

Overall, this was a captivating work that will give its reader insight regarding the ambitions for power and the horrors of racial cleansing. Sadly, we see how history often repeats itself.

See review in French and excerpt at: siawi article 6662