41 pages 1 hour read

Yasmina Khadra

The Attack

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2005

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.

Summary and Study Guide


The Attack is a 2005 book written by Yasmina Khadra, translated in 2006 by John Cullen and published by Anchor Books. It describes the aftermath of a suicide bomb attack in Tel Aviv and a man’s struggle to accept his wife’s involvement in the attack. 

Plot Summary

The Introduction of the novel describes an unnamed narrator (later revealed as Dr. Amin Jaafari) watching a religious figure get into a car in a busy crowd. An explosion rocks the square, killing many people and injuring Amin, who is thrown into an ambulance beside corpses. 

In Tel Aviv, Amin is an Arab surgeon who has become a naturalized Israeli citizen. One day, after talking to his colleagues Ezra Benhaim and Dr. Kim Yehuda, an explosion in the city leads to many injured people needing help. Amin works long hours in the operating room, helping the victims of the suicide bombing. Driving home, he is stopped several times by the Israeli police. His wife, Sihem Jaafari, is not at home when he arrives, and he assumes she is still with her grandmother. 

A phone call in the middle of the night summons Amin back to the hospital to identify a body: It is Sihem. He is devastated and consoled by his friends. Then, the police demand to search his house: They believe that Sihem was the bomber. Amin is in shock and insists that he knew nothing about his wife’s plans. The police search his house and beat him, interrogating him for three days. Amin’s friend Navid Ronnen—a police officer—helps to arrange his release. Amin refuses to accept that Sihem was involved. Amin’s neighbors treat him with contempt. Kim comes to Amin’s house and finds him asleep in the bath. After she leaves for work, Amin’s neighbors form a mob and attack him. Kim returns and takes Amin to her home to recover. He stays with her a week while he buries his wife, drinking and smoking more than ever. He overhears his colleagues discussing the Israel-Palestine situation in Kim’s house and leaves. 

At home, he finds a letter from Sihem confessing to the bombing. Kim takes Amin to her grandfather’s seaside home to escape. There, Amin tries to understand his wife’s actions but cannot. Amin learns that the hospital staff have turned against him. Amin is rude to Navid, who tells him bluntly that the investigation into his wife’s motivations has come to a halt. Amin does not tell him about the letter. A short time later, Amin decides to launch his own investigation. Much to Kim’s consternation, he travels to Bethlehem to see his foster sister. Kim insists on accompanying him, and they stay in her brother’s home in Jerusalem. Bethlehem has changed a great deal since Amin’s last visit. It is now a more violent, dangerous place, but Amin does not care. Amin visits his brother-in-law Yasser, a cowardly man who tells him that Sihem visited a local mosque to be blessed by Sheikh Marwan. Amin decides to visit the Iman but is not allowed into the private quarters of the mosque. He tries to enter repeatedly, denied in increasingly violent ways. Eventually, he is taken to a meeting and told that his presence in the town threatens the local people and that no one knows what motivated Sihem. He is accused of being an Israeli spy and told to return to Tel Aviv. Amin returns to Kim’s brother’s apartment. 

Early the next morning, he returns to the mosque and meets an Iman. They argue and Amin is thrown out again. Kim and Amin return to Yasser’s home. Afterward, when Amin again tries to visit the mosque, he is beaten by two men in an alley. That evening, he receives a telephone call to arrange a meeting. Kim believes it is a trap, but Amin does not care. The next day, he is blindfolded and taken on a long journey to meet a tall man with a Lebanese accent in a secret location. They talk for a long time, the man defending the need for violent struggle against their oppressors. Amin argues and the two men do not come to an agreement. Amin decides to return to Tel Aviv, unsatisfied with his answers but unsure what to do next. 

At home, he looks through his photo albums and realizes that Sihem spent a lot more time with Amin’s nephew Adel that he had ever realized. Infuriated and suspicious, he travels to Sihem’s grandmother and talks to one of her relatives, who seems to confirm Amin’s suspicions of Sihem’s infidelity. Amin checks himself into a hotel and drinks heavily for a week. He becomes aggressive and is eventually arrested. Navid again arranges for his release and tries to tell Amin how much he and Kim are worried. Amin tells Navid of his plan to go into Palestine in search of answers, and Navid tells him how dangerous this is. Amin does not care. 

In Palestine, he searches for more information but stumbles into another trap. He is locked away for many days, beaten and denied food and water. On the seventh day, a commander appears and explains that Amin is free to go; they were trying to demonstrate to Amin what it was like to be truly oppressed. Amin confronts Adel, who denies ever sleeping with Sihem. He defends her and her actions as pure and saintly. Amin accepts his explanation but struggles to comprehend the reasoning. He feels as though his journey has ended. Amin visits his extended family. Though he feels rejuvenated, a relative is soon involved in another suicide bombing. The Israeli army bulldozes the family home and, as a result, the family is split up. Amin realizes that this has driven his relative Faten to become a bomber herself. He chases after her, trying to save her. He arrives at the mosque but a drone strike hits the crowd, killing everyone including Amin.