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Posted March 11, 2012
This book interweaves the diaries of two brothers, sent to France from Algeria at a young age by their German father and Algerian mother. The older brother has assimilated into the Parisian life of a post-ethnic, college-educated employee of an American company who, after his parents are murdered in Algeria by Islamists, learns that his chemical engineer father was an SS officer at concentration camps. He becomes obsessed with trying to understand his father, losing his trans-national job, his Eastern European wife, and in the end his life while following his father's trail through the death camps and escape through Turkey and Egypt. The older brother recorded his mental journey into the past and his physical journeys through the remnants of the holocaust in diaries that become his legacy to his younger brother.
The younger brother has not assimilated, continuing to live as an unemployed youth in the suburban Paris projects/slums with his Muslim-Arab immigrant family, friends and neighbors. He learns of his father’s past by reading his brother’s diaries. In many ways, the younger brother is better equipped to understand his father’s path, which began in the 1930s Hitler Youth. Occupants of the suburban apartment blocks (called “estates” in English translation) of the book are predominantly Muslim. The brothers’ diaries are written in the mid-1990s, as radical Islamists are moving in and imposing their Nazi-like ideologies on the largely passive (and unassimilated) residents of the suburban slums. Women are venturing out of their homes less and beginning to wear the hijab and abaya. Violence has begun – a young woman is murdered by an imam, resulting in fear and silent acquiescence in the community. Young men – the friends and neighbors of the younger brother – are recruited, indoctrinated and sent to Afghanistan to martyr themselves as suicide bombers. The younger brother comes to understand that his 1990s environment is much the same as his father’s 1930s environment. He vows to do something to let people know that fascism is rising again in the Paris suburbs, although not believing that he can effect change. The something is publishing the his own and his brother’s diaries as The German Mujahid.
Written in two first person voices of the brothers’ diaries, The German Mujahid seems to capture an authentic insider’s view of the French Arab immigrant author. Connections drawn between the rise of Nazi-ism in 1930s Germany and the rise of Islamists in the 1990s gives the book a current events interest that goes beyond the compelling story of the brothers’ reactions to learning that dear old dad was a mass murderer/war criminal.