26 February 2015

Review #151: Arab Jazz by Karim Miské

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"Everything is a dangerous drug except reality, which is unendurable"

----Cyril Vernon Connolly, an English intellectual, literary critic and writer

Karim Miské, a French-Mauritanian writer and director of French documentary films, penned his debut novel, Arab Jazz, a crime thriller set across the 19th arrondissement of Paris and New York, centered around drug trafficking, Salafist Muslims, Jews and Jehovah's witnesses.


Kosher sushi, kebabs, a second hand bookshop and a bar: the 19th arrondissement in Paris is a cosmopolitan neighborhood where multicultural citizens live, love and worship alongside one another. This peace is shattered when Ahmed Taroudant's melancholy daydreams are interrupted by the blood dripping from his upstairs neighbor's brutally mutilated corpse.

The violent murder of Laura Vignole, and the pork joint placed next to her, set imaginations ablaze across the neighborhood, and Ahmed finds himself the prime suspect. However detectives Rachel Kupferstein and Jean Hamelot are not short of leads. What is the connection between a disbanded hip-hop group and the fiery extremist preachers that jostle in the streets for attention? And what is the mysterious new pill that is taking the district by storm?

In this his debut novel, Karim Miské demonstrates a masterful control of setting, as he moves seamlessly between the sensual streets of Paris and the synagogues of New York to reveal the truth behind a horrifying crime.

Ahmed Taroudant, a psychotic, French Arab man living in an apartment in the 19th arrondissement of Paris, who loves to daydream and read crime thrillers to escape from the harsh present and haunting past demons. One fine afternoon, he finds his beautiful neighbor, Laura, an air-hostess, murdered and badly mutilated in her apartment right above his. And that is when he realizes that he too was in love with Laura. But it is clear that whoever murdered Laura, has planned it well to put the blame on Ahmed. But in the eyes of the detectives, Rachel Kupferstein and Jean Hamelot, Ahmed is just a pawn. More digging into Laura's past brings up the buried secrets about Jehovah's witnesses, a religious hip-hop band making songs about Muslim Salafism movement, a drug named Godzwill, an old barber shop and the head quarter in Brooklyn . But what is that to do with Laura? Is she the victim of some extremist religious group? Read the book, which is translated by Sam Gordon from French to English.

Sam Gordon did full justice to Karim Miské's engrossing thriller. The book started bit slow with Ahmed buys books from Paul- a bookseller by weighing them in tonnes. The story began with Ahmed's narration who from the very first page came across as a man who is mentally disrupted, who loved to live in his uninterrupted dream world. The author vividly painted the picture of Paris where Muslims lived along with the Jews. He detailed the picture so intricately that you can almost smell the delicious food across the kosher and kebab shops and you can almost take a walk on the footpath of the cosmopolitan neighborhood in Paris.

The prose is absolutely fantastic, yes sometimes it might be difficult to picture everything at a time from a hip-hop band preaching the Salafism, to the strict rules followed on being a Jehovah's witness to the making of a mysterious drug. The investigation is the best thing in the book with Jean and Rachel whose characters evolve as the story progresses. The characters are strongly built and are diverse. The author's writing is easy to understand and free-flowing enough to captivate our minds with the extreme religious disadvantages. The author even moves back and forth in time to reveal the mystery behind Laura's death from the head quarter of Jehovah's witness in New York to the current time with Ahmed, Rachel and Jean in Paris. But from the narrative, it sounded more like a literary fiction instead of a crime thriller. The mystery is not that well-captured, since the narratives turned out to be way too revealing. In short, a complicated novel that is easy to contemplate and easy to lose into. The name Arab Jazz is symbolized from James Ellroy's White Jazz novel and has nothing to do with jazz and we learn about it almost in the beginning when Rachel and Jean comes to investigate Laura's murder with Ahmed for the first time.

Verdict: Grab the book if you want to taste something different and twisted in the crime genre.

Courtesy: Thanks to the author's publicist from Quercus Publishing, for giving me an opportunity to read and review Miské's book. 

Author Info:
Born in 1964 in Abidjan a Mauritanian father and a French mother, grew up in Paris Karim Miské before leaving to study journalism in Dakar.
Back in France, he produced since 1990 documentaries on subjects as varied as deafness (he learns why sign language), neo-fundamentalism, Jewish, Christian and Muslim, and medical abortions. His films have been broadcast on Arte, France 2, Canal +, Channel oven and many television channels worldwide.
In 1997, Karim Miské publishes a story (in the collective work "The Return of the book" In other editions) which recounts his discovery of the Arab world, Africa and Islam during his first trip to Mauritania to age of fifteen and the complex relationship he has since then with the various components of its identity.
From 2010, he wrote several forums on the racialization of French society to Rue89, Le Monde and Respect Magazine. He keeps a blog now, "chronic ten years" on the site Inrockuptibles.
Arab Jazz is his first novel.
Visit him here 

Sam Gordon is a translator of French and Spanish. He has translated a range of short stories; Arab Jazz is his first novel-length translation. 

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