Turkish (Not-Quite) Delight
Arjouni's Kemal Kayankaya is a German private detective who wisecracks with lowlifes, hangs around sleazy sex shops when work calls for it, and gets beaten up a lot. Sound familiar from countless books and movies? The kicker is that Kayankaya is of Turkish descent, and he takes grief for it -- obviously a resonant theme in Germany. This tension shoots through his novel One Death to Die. But a novel premise does not always make for a novel novel, and when Kayankaya bursts in on a wretched group of asylum seekers in a wretched room, for example, you'll feel deja-vu along with the sympathy. You've seen the scene before.
Better are Kayankaya's encounters with obstructionist officials, a more subtle way of portraying racism. Best is Kayankaya's searing verbal assault on a neighbor who he finds out supports a "moderate" right-wing party that doesn't want to kick Turks out of Germany but won't accept them either. The poor neighbor thinks himself humane and morally superior to Germany's "real" racists, and all it takes is two words from a furious Kayankaya to not just puncture his complacency, but utterly shatter him. The words? "Heil Hitler!" Longtime readers of this two-day-old blog will recognize that this fulfills my top criterion for "international" fiction: It takes full advantage of its setting. Such a moment could not happen, or at least not with the same dynamic effect, anywhere but in Germany.
An interesting note: I'd thought Arjouni himself was of Turkish descent, and I could swear that I'd read that he was. Not so, according to No Exit Press, which publishes his books.
© Peter Rozovsky 2006