Detectives Beyond Borders: You’re a kind of literary traveler: South Africa, Argentina, New Zealand. Why do you choose to work this way?
Caryl Férey: I travelled around the world when I was twenty years old. I discovered New Zealand, and I adored New Zealand. ... I discovered the “others,” the desire to write about what was happening abroad.
You found this more interesting than your own country?
Completely. ... As I always liked travelling and writing, so I could do them together: travel and write and, in addition, to use trips for writing.
A different country for each book?
In New Zealand I wrote two books.
Not yet, but they tell me soon. ... I never want to write the same book, that takes place in the same location, because I always want to write something different. That's why I generally kill off my hero at the end. So there is no continuation, and this lets me go look into another country.
It takes me three or four years to write such a book. After three or four years, I have the feeling of having taken in all the country’s problems. I don’t have much more to say. I try to put everything into the one book and then go somewhere else.
Often the Southern Hemisphere because when it’s winter in France, it’s summer down there, so I always leave in winter. I have a year of summer.
I think it’s an advantage because there are taboos on all societies. In South Africa, for example, there’s the taboo around the Zulu Inkatha, and the ANC of Mandela. There was a civil war manipulated by apartheid, and no one talks about it.
Completely. But I understand. Mandela, when he took power, said no, no. That was horrible, apartheid. We won’t talk about it any longer. Everyone is together. Tomorrow is more important than yesterday. ... Something extraordinary happened. He had De Klerk, the white Afrikaaner. He had Buthelezi, the chief of Inkatha, and when he took power, he raised their arms.
As an outsider, I can talk about this. I can talk about the war between Inkatha (and the African National Congress). It’s no problem for me. A South African, for reasons of national reconciliation, will not talk about it.
Why Zulu as a title? Why not Xhosa, or Afrikaaner?
That was just to discuss the war between the Zula Inkatha and the Xhosa ANC. Because I knew the area around Cape Town, my journalist friend lived in Cape Town, my book takes place in Cape Town. There are no Zulu in Cape Town, very few. The Zulu live in another part of South Africa, far away.
So, to talk about the problem of the war between the Zulu Inkatha and the ANC, I took a Zulu character (homicide detective Ali Neuman), I put him in Cape Town. He takes refuge in Cape Town, because his father was pro-ANC, even though he was Zulu. One could be Zulu and for the ANC.
There were people who understood that Mandela was the symbol of resistance against whites, and they understood that Buthelezi and the Zulu Ikatha were manipulated by apartheid. So for me, it was a way to talk about this civil war
Many South African crime novels are extremely violent. Is such violence more striking for white readers than for black readers?
Unfortunately for Africans, they live among violence. It’s everywhere. For us it’s more shocking because we are unaccustomed to living with violence all the time. Blacks who live in the townships, they live with violence. But us, whites, we are not used to living with barbed wire, fencing, electronic security. Houses in South Africa have this, electricity everywhere to protect the houses.
... We’re not accustomed to this violence, so we have the roman noir as a catharsis. For us, who have an ultra-securitized society, we are even more scared of violence. By contrast, I think that if I were a black South African author, I would not write about a violent life. What would interest me would be love stories, that kind of thing, because “Violence? OK, we know it.”
The Irish crime writer Alan Glynn talks about the 1970s as a golden age for books and movies of paranoia: The Conversation, The Parallax View. He says that our own age is good time for a revival of such books and movies. Is Zulu a novel of paranoia?
Completely paranoid, just like white South African society is paranoid. At the same time, there is good reason to be scared because there is so much murder and rape, but most rape and murder happens between blacks. It is often blacks who suffer.
This is a kind of golden age for South African crime fiction. Do you know many of the current South African crime writers?
Very few. I have just met Deon Meyer, but I don’t know the others. But the poor are fantastic society for writing a roman noir.
It’s like the Americans If American authors are so good, and American authors are superb, it’s because they have a terrible society, with enormous gulfs between rich and poor.
All the most interesting ingredients for me are not in France. That’s why I go back to Argentina. There was the dictatorship. There was the crisis of 2002. These are fantastic subjects for romans noirs. ...
With Sarkozy, France has more and more subjects for romans noirs: xenophobia, pitting one community against the other. He’s playing a very dangerous game, this guy.
... I think the role of noir authors is to detect— You have to get your nose down in the shit. That's our job, a little bit. We say, “Look! Look what’s happening there and there and there!”
© Peter Rozovsky 2010