The Austin Chronicle: "Thought-provoking on many levels, perhaps the ultimate moral to this tale is the timeless one of how the sins of the father can affect the next generation."
Date: Nov 12 2009
It's not that I necessarily wanted or needed to read another Holocaust novel. But this book's declaration as "the first Arab novel to confront the Holocaust" certainly piqued my interest with the promise of a different perspective on an all-too-familiar topic. Originally titled Le Village de L'Allemand: Ou Le Journal des Frères Schiller and the winner of France's RTL-Lire Prize in 2008, The German Mujahid is the story of two Algerian-born brothers, raised from an early age by an uncle in a Muslim ghetto on the outskirts of Paris. (Their parents remain in a remote Algerian village.) The older brother, Rachel, is largely assimilated, successful, and middle-class, while Malrich is an angry, alienated malcontent who has been unable to escape the oppressive concrete jungle consigned to foreigners.
The story revolves around the brothers' quite different reactions to the murder of their parents, presumably by Islamic fundamentalists in that country's "dirty war" of the 1990s. Rachel pieces together the truth that their German father, although a hero in Algeria's war of independence from France, was an SS officer guilty of war crimes during World War II. In tracing his father's escape from war-torn Germany to the isolation of the Algerian desert, he visits the concentration camps where his father worked as a chemical engineer. Rachel reconstructs the implications of his Nazi involvement in "the final solution" with the meticulous exactitude found in the writings of Primo Levi, even quoting passages from Levi's Holocaust masterwork If This Is a Man (later republished as Survival in Auschwitz). Wracked with guilt and shame, Rachel steadily deteriorates mentally and ultimately gasses himself to death. His diary is found posthumously by Malrich, who in turn must now deal with his brother's death, the truth about their father, and subsequently the taking over of his ghetto "estate" by Islamic extremists. He takes the substance of his brother's writings and relates it to his current situation, drawing direct parallels from national socialism to the principles and tactics of contemporary Islamic fundamentalism.
The book was banned in Sansal's home country of Algeria, where the Holocaust is not currently acknowledged and remnants of its nasty civil war between a secular government and religious rebels still persist.
Thought-provoking on many levels, perhaps the ultimate moral to this tale is the timeless one of how the sins of the father can affect the next generation.
By Jay Trachtenberg