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Book Review

"The Last Night of a Damned Soul"

cover by Slimane Benaissa, Grove Press: New York, 2004.
Translated by Janice and Daniel Gross
Review by Kim Cragin, RAND

"Did exile lead us astray to the point that a mother is no longer a mother, a son no longer a son, and God is an organizer of terrorist attacks?" (from The Last Night of the Damned Soul)

Originally written in French by Algerian author Slimane Benaissa, This book was subsequently translated into English by Janice and Daniel Gross. From its outset, the author tells us that it is his intention to explore, in fiction, the thoughts, feelings and beliefs of an individual participating in the September 11th 2001 attacks against New York City's World Trade Center and the Pentagon. This approach causes the reader to both empathize and resent the primary character, Raouf, throughout the course of the book. The story opens by introducing the reader right away to Raouf's internal struggle -- Athman (Raouf's radical best friend, who represents a pull towards martyrdom) has invited Raouf to an Eid al-Adha celebration, but Jenny (Raouf's Christian live-in girlfriend, who represents a pull towards secularism) is not allowed to attend. In fact, Benaissa builds his story primarily around relationships, as Raouf draws closer to Athman he pulls away from his mother and his girlfriend. Benaissa also demonstrates Raouf's progression towards martyrdom through the various mosques he visits and sermons he listens to during Friday prayers. Reading these sermons can be somewhat tedious. It is clear that the author believes these sermons and ideology go hand-in-hand with martyrdom. Yet at the same time, by the end of the book, this aspect of Raouf's radicalization is the least believable. He never seems to buy-in to the ideology as it is portrayed in the story. Rather, the reader ends up believing that Raouf in many ways was as much a victim of circumstance as the casualties in the 9/11 attack. The author concludes with a letter to Raouf from his mother. This letter expresses confusion, remorse and betrayal, perhaps capturing what Benaissa himself feels about the 9/11 attacks.


Kim Cragin (MPP, Public Policy) is an international policy analyst at RAND Corporation. Since joining RAND, Kim has focused on issues concerning the history of political violence. Her RAND publications include Terrorism and Development, Arms Trafficking and Colombia, and The Dynamic Terrorist Threat. Kim has managed the RAND Terrorism Chronology since April 2001. In addition to her work for RAND, Kim is a PhD candidate at Cambridge University’s Faculty of History; her dissertation research traces the transformation of Hamas in Palestinian society, beginning in 1973 with its roots in the Muslim Brotherhood through its formal inception in 1987 and the June 2003 ceasefire. Kim has conducted fieldwork in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel, Egypt, Jordan, Colombia, the United Kingdom, China, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines.