4 out of 5: Rachel and Malrich, Algerian-born brothers living with distant relatives in a rough Muslim ghetto thirty minutes outside of Paris, discover the horrible truth about their German father: he’s a former SS officer employed in the Nazi death camps during World War II. Their father’s secret past only comes to light after he and his wife are brutally murdered by Islamic fundamentalists in the small Algerian village where they live. After this devastating series of events causes Rachel to commit suicide (an event disclosed on page 1), Malrich sets off on a journey to come to terms with his brother’s death and his father’s evil past. Along the way, Malrich draws parallels between the Holocaust and the more recent murders perpetrated by Islamic fundamentalists.
Clearly, there is a lot going on in The German Mujahid, but the book’s structure—rigid enough to shape the story but relaxed enough to allow for relevant tangents—holds it all together for the most part. Composed of the brothers’ alternating journal entries and skipping nimbly back and forth in time, this structure maintains suspense while filling in enough background details to create depth and resonance.
Sansal’s central concern is whether a father’s sins should be (must be?) imputed to his sons, and the brothers’ attempts to answer this question drive most of the action. Malrich asks:
Am I supposed to believe the man I called papa and the SS officer are really the same person? How is it possible to blame one and honour the other, to hate the killer he was—a man I never knew—and love the father, the victim he is now, a victim of the same terrorists who are gunning for us?It’s a complicated question, and Sansal’s treatment is appropriately perceptive, if occasionally preachy. The German Mujahid is a powerful examination of terrorism, both past and present, and its effects on those innocent bystanders caught in the crossfire.