Friday, September 22, 2006

Turkish (Not-Quite) Delight

Glenn Harper's International Noir Fiction site gives an interesting brief overview of Jakob Arjouni, the German noir writer. Glenn is higher on Arjouni than I am, and the several annoying cons and one huge pro I see in Arjouni's writing go straight to the heart of why I read international crime fiction.

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

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Blogger Glenn Harper said...

Hello, I pretty much agree with you on Arjouni, but since my blog is specifically about the "noir" end of the crime genre, Arjouni fills that bill rather well. The books are very dark and very atmospheric, if sometimes a bit clichéd in the tough guy mode. I believe Arjouni is indeed of Turkish descent, but was born in Germany and is a German citizen. I've read at least one of his non-detective books, Magic Hoffmann, which is about German 20-somethings, and it has the same gloomy, depressed air of youth at a dead end in Berlin (in the case of that book). It's about footloose and criminally inclined youth, but isn't really a crime novel and is pretty cheerless. There's also a book of contemporary fairy tales by him that's been translated, and a new Kayankaya book coming out soon.

September 22, 2006  
Blogger Glenn Harper said...

One correction (maybe). I have not been able to verify my impression that Arjouni has some Turkish roots, not that it matters. If I find out one way or the other, I'll post here or at internationalnoir.

September 22, 2006  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the comments.

George Bush wants a "guest-worker" program in the U.S., but Germany had its Turkish "gastarbeiter" first. I know Arjouni is grappling with highly sensitive and emotional issues and presenting them to Germans in dark and dramatic terms. Also, I think he began publishing in the early 1990s, when such issues were even more urgent than they are now. Maybe Arjouni's urgency and passion consumed his attention to the point where the issues I complain about just didn't matter to him. Or maybe he had just not yet hit his stride as a novelist when he wrote One Man, One Murder.

He's obviously conscious of the tradition in which he's writing. It would be interesting to see of he learns to build on it, rather than just copy it, in tke later Kayankaya books and in future ones.

I knew Arjouni was a German native and citizen, but I also had the impression he was of Turkish descent. That's why I was surprised at No Exit Press' assertion to the contrary.

September 22, 2006  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...


I bought and still Drink More! today. The opening chapter's device of summing up a series of events through newspaper headlines and articles is, like several other Arjouni devices we've discussed, familiar. But I think he does it well and with a more mordant and satirical political focus than other writers. This book could be good.

September 23, 2006  

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