Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Arab Jazz by Karim Miske



published 2012 in France, 2015 in the UK

translated by Sam Gordon

 
Arab Jazz 1
 
The two lieutenants sit there in thoughtful silence. Barely three minutes later, two 23-year-old girls – tall and very beautiful – enter the kebab shop. The first has dark black skin and an Angela Davis hairstyle and is wearing a white blouse and some flared jeans. On her feet are some yellow Onitsuka Tiger Asics trainers.The other girl has a much fairer, almost milky complexion and curly auburn hair tied up at the back with a shiny black clip…. Blown away by this double vision of beauty, Jean and Rachel watch Onur lean towards them and indicate the table where the officers are sitting with an almost invisible nod, before carrying on talking. The students don’t turn round, listen to the end and take their seats, only then stealing a glance over at Rachel. Onur tips some frozen chips into the metal basket and plunges them into the boiling oil. Jean and Rachel calmly finish their cake, get up and pay.

‘Thanks Onur, see you next time.’

‘See you.’
 
 
 
Arab Jazz 2Arab Jazz 3



observations: Two reviews by other bloggers made me want to read this book – from Raven and Marina Sofia - along with the cover, which I found distinctive and memorable:

Arab Jazz cover


I was not disappointed. It’s a really really good thriller, with fabulous characters, and a fantastic setting in the 19th arrondissement of Paris. Rachel and Jean, above, are investigating the murder of Laura, an Air France stewardess, whose body has been found in her flat. Her downstairs neighbour, Ahmed, is an obvious suspect, but the two cops, charmingly, can tell he isn’t guilty:
 









They tacitly communicate what they both know – this is not our guy. Strangely they feel as though they’re carrying out this investigation as a threesome, rather than a twosome. An Ashkenhazi Jew, a spaced-out Breton and a loony Arab. The dream team of the nineteenth arrondissement! Now it’s time to play cops and robbers.
Ahmed has been having difficult times – all he has is his books, measured by weight (he has two tonnes and five kilos) and almost filling his flat. He reminded me in this respect of Col of Col’s Criminal Library.

The book’s characters include Hasidic Jews, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, corrupt policemen, fundamentalists of many kinds, and local shopkeepers of many kinds. Miske seemed like an insider, not a tourist, the world he describes seemed very natural. Some of the plot – which concerns a mystery drug – was weird, and I could have done without the more gruesome violence, which seemed unnecessary. But other than that I loved the book, and the matter-of-fact way that it was simultaneously warm-hearted, yet full of horrible people and nasty incidents. I think the good people just outweighed the bad. Ahmed had a nearly-romance with the dead woman: when he imagines their lost future ‘it went as far as children, divorce. I felt I had to do something. For her. For me too, out of loyalty to what we hadn’t lived.’ And so the sad murder finally pushes him out of his depression and inertia.

The book gives a great picture of a wholly contemporary Paris, with its mixed background, but still has everyone discussing love and philosophy and noir films, just as we expect from French characters. (I was impressed by some of the police travelling on the 75 bus.) There is also a lot about crime books:
Sam puts a bit too much into his pause. A real pause, like a concierge from a Simenon novel.
And there is a mention of the magazine Charlie Hebdo, which 3 months ago would have meant little to most UK readers.

Altogether this is a great book: a picture of a different world, but seen from the inside. Apparently Karim Miske is going to follow it up with another two books – good news.

The picture of two young women in Paris is called Friendship, and was taken by Gideon and shared to Wikimedia Commons.

The pictures of the 19eme arrondissement are from a Fotolog webpage.




















12 comments:

  1. I've been keen to read this too, Moira! And it's good to hear that you found it such a good read. The setting really appeals to me (What a great idea to look at Paris from another perspective, so to speak), and it sounds as though there are some good characters in it too.

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    1. There's been quite a lot of talk about this book, Margot, as you know, and for once this is wholly deserved. I found it refreshing, and I loved the world it showed. Take away the crime and violence, and it's a world I'd like to live in!

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  2. Haha, a man with as many books as me, we'll soon see about that. I like the sound of this and haven't heard of it before....would just one more book hurt....

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    1. This book is most definitely on the cusp where we meet Col, I think you'd like it even if it didn't have a man with all those books. He's planning on buying more and more till his flat is completely full...

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  3. Moira, thanks for spotlighting this book by Karim Miske, a new author for me. He seems to have handled really well several elements in contemporary Paris including weaving a discussion about "love and philosophy and noir films" into the plot thriller.

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    1. Prashant, this really is a very good book, and anyone who likes the idea of Paris will like it.

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  4. Oh, now this sounds like a good book to me. The title alone is interesting. But the fact that it's about a multi-cultural Paris with intellectual discussions part of the mix makes it intriguing. I could do without that level of violence (sigh), but I'll have to skip sections. That's been done before.

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    1. I definitely skimmed some references to the levels of violence - like you, I have done it before and will do it again. But worth it this time for a charming (it seems an odd word, but it was charming) book.

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  5. I love the Friendship picture, by the way.

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    1. Thanks Kathy, me too, and it fits the book well.

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  6. This does sound good and that is a lovely cover. Not available here, so I can put off worrying about adding it to my already overloaded shelves.

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    1. I do love the cover. For sure it will be published in the USA eventually....

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