The rest of the novel is just as direct and irresistible as this first line — every subsequent sentence, in this translation by John Cullen, is carefully designed to draw you in and lead you into the next one ... Khadra does a great job of guiding us through the stages of Khalil’s radicalization. Xenophobia, Islamophobia, poverty, family dysfunction: All of the usual triggers are examined, but the author goes further, to show that radicalization is not inevitable. Often it is a matter of choice, a way to embrace bitterness and anger over adaptation and personal accountability ... in this novel full of plot twists, the author saves his biggest shock for the end ... This novel is both timely and, sadly, timeless. In examining the anatomy of radicalism, Khadra shows that all forms of extremism, whether political, religious or otherwise, stem from the same source: a refusal to see things from an opposing point of view. For Khalil and many others who feel called to commit atrocities in the name of a higher cause, the outcome is only tragedy.
The characters sometimes feel like mere vehicles for Khadra’s messaging about disaffected youth. Nevertheless, the novel does illuminate Khalil’s travails with plenty of empathy. As a result, his misguided motivations define a believable if not entirely relatable figure.
Algerian writer Yasmina Khadra’s latest novel explores European home-ground terrorism in a gripping psychological first-person novel. We follow Khalil’s dumbfounded journey back to his native Belgium, grappling with the circumstances surrounding his vest’s malfunctioning ... Khadra sketches the outline of a perfect candidate to radical Islam ... Khadra’s strength lies in weaving real and fictional events with Khalil’s inner conflicts to keep us guessing where truth ends and fiction takes off. The terrorist attacks which killed over 130 people in Paris and the French national stadium in November 2015 happened— Khadra himself now lives in Paris. The Brussels metro attack happened. The reader is taken on a hyperrealist deep-dive in the complex, intrinsically contradictory and disturbed jihadi mind. Khalil resonates well with the author’s chosen themes of exploring tensions between Occident and Orient in a post-colonial world, identity and tipping points, following the pulse of current political events ... another fast-paced, thought-provoking and immersive story within a ravishing novel.