Karim Miské’s literary thriller, Arab Jazz, which explores religious extremism, murder and multicultural unrest in Paris’s north-eastern neighbourhoods, was published in French, with strange prescience, in 2012, long before the Charlie Hebdo and Bataclan attacks. Miské could never have imagined that the Kouachi brothers, who grew up in the 19th arrondissement, would later race their getaway car down the rue Petit, a street that is central to Arab Jazz, after committing mass murder at the Charlie Hebdo offices.
Miské has a background as a documentary filmmaker and the thriller opens with a cinematic image of blood slowly dripping onto a balcony and then onto the nose of Ahmed, a dreaming, book-loving, shrink-going Arab, waking him from his reverie. It’s the blood of his beautiful neighbour Laura. Slipping inside her apartment he finds a horrific scene: Laura’s lifeless body, a piece of raw pork with a knife through it nearby. He knows immediately that someone wants to frame him for the murder.
Readers curious about the fragile equilibrium of those who live side-by-side in this cosmopolitan area, with varying degrees of tolerance for one another, will be fascinated by Miské’s neighbourhood descriptions of “kosher sushi, kebab stands, a second-hand bookstore, and a bar” and “the Lubavitch school complex, the Salafist prayer room and the evangelical church.”
Although the narrative voice shifts between a number of characters—a Kabyle police officer, an American Jehovah’s Witness, a Hasidic Rastafarian Brooklynite—the focus is on Ahmed and the detectives investigating the murder, Rachel Kupferstein, an atheist Ashkenazi Jew, and Jean Hamelot, a communist from Brittany…
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By Karim Miské Translated by Sam Gordon