Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Crime fiction in the Arab world

In Reference to Murder links to an interesting review in the Arab News of M.M. Tawfik's Murder in the Tower of Happiness. Why interesting? Because it appears under the headline "A rare thriller from the Arab world."

"Crime fiction is not popular in Arabic literature; in fact a number of Arab writers and scholars do not even consider it a noble genre," the reviewer notes, and both she and the author discuss the problem:

"According to Tawfik, the lack of an organized book industry in the area of general reading has prevented the development of literature in the Arab world. The main function of a book industry is to cater for the needs of the consumer, in this case, the reader, by selecting the works expected to have a broad appeal; its absence means that the writers gradually ignore their readers’ preferences."
Tawfik, an Egyptian, tells the reviewer that "Our educational systems make students hate reading. There is a lot of money being spent on culture in the Arab world but it is not designed to take culture to the masses but rather to create cultural bubbles for the elites"

That damning assessment tallies nicely with comments I'd noted here in a comment that in turn discusses comments from various authors of crime fiction set in the Arab world.

The publisher's Web site calls Murder in the Tower of Happiness "A darkly humorous and intricate crime novel from Egypt." Read an excerpt here.

© Peter Rozovsky 2009

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12 Comments:

Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Did you ever finish the excellent Thief and the Dogs?

February 26, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I did, and I wrote about it here.

February 26, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Oh yeah, I forgot about that. It'll be hard to beat that for Cairo crime fiction.

I'm reading Snow at the moment which may qualify as Turkish/Kurdish Nobel Laureate crime fiction.

February 26, 2009  
Blogger Cullen Gallagher said...

Interesting cultural insight. I hadn't heard of this book, but it sounds interesting. I'll keep it on my radar.

Thanks for sharing!
Cullen Gallagher
www.pulpserenade.blogspot.com

February 26, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I haven't read O. Pamuk, but I know My Name Is Red is cast as a kind of murder mystery.

Mahfouz was commendably open to all sorts of writing. An admirable fellow, he was. I don't know to what extent he was influenced by noir when he wrote The Thief and the Dogs, but he certainly had the chops down. And he managed to avoid seeming obtrusively derivative.

February 26, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Cullen, every interview with or article by an author of crime fiction set in the Arab world that I've seen has included social criticism along the lines of what Tawfik offers here. The Arab authors themselves have been even more sharply critical than authors from elsewhere who set their stories in the Arab world. Among other things, this makes me suspect that there is great potential for crime fiction set in that world.

February 26, 2009  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Anyone who's ever taken a taxi to the pyramids to find that they are "closed for the day, but my cousin knows a back way in" will testify to the rich and inventive criminal underclass in Cairo.

February 26, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's entrepreneurship in action.

February 26, 2009  
Blogger Lauren said...

I do like databases - I was looking for something else entirely and came across this:

"Classical Arabic Crime Narratives: Thieves and Thievery in Adab Literature", Fedwa Malti-Douglas, Journal of Arabic Literature, Vol. 19, No. 2 (Sep., 1988), pp. 108-127.

So it seems there is a history of Arab crime fction, but it hasn't necessarily made it to the present day.

February 27, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Lauren, I would love to try to dig up that article. The title makes me think of "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves."

I would be curious most of all about the dates of those classical crime stories. The criticism I read today tends to blame a lack of detective stories on a lack of respect for civil authority in general and law enforcement in particular on one hand, and on the lack of a reading public on the other.

February 27, 2009  
Blogger Johnny Ostentatious said...

Wow, fascinating post, Peter!

February 28, 2009  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Yes, some good stuff here. I'm curious to read the article Lauren mentioned, and I may look for Murder in the House of Happiness tomorrow.

February 28, 2009  

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