October 2, 2013

What the world will pay for

From the NYT:
A Master of Crime Fiction in a Nation Lacking Them 
Jakob Arjouni’s Last Novel, Now in English 
By WILLIAM GRIMES
... When Diogenes, a Zurich publishing house, brought out his first novel, “Happy Birthday, Turk!” in 1985, Germans got their first taste of an exotic flavor that soon proved addictive. 
Kemal Kayankaya, Mr. Arjouni’s Frankfurt-based private eye, was an anomaly. Though Turkish by birth, he spoke German like a native and often seemed like an American, with a cynical worldview and a wiseguy sense of humor straight out of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. German readers loved him. 
“Arjouni was the first writer to put a self-confident, aggressive, individual and charming German Turk on the national stage as a character in popular culture,” said Gabriele Dietze, a fellow at Humboldt University in Berlin and a former crime-novel editor. “Kayankaya was the first self-aware immigrant hero.” 
“Happy Birthday, Turk!,” which involves the murder of a Turkish immigrant and a sinister drug ring, became an immediate best seller. ...
On Jan. 17, Mr. Arjouni died in Berlin of the pancreatic cancer that had set him racing against the clock to finish the book. He was 48. ...
Although Kayankaya is indifferent to politics, his investigations entangle him in hot-button issues like immigration, racism, ecoterrorism and, in “Brother Kemal,” militant Islam. 
“This is ripped-from-the-headlines stuff, but he doesn’t beat you over the head with it,” said Dennis Johnson, a founder and publisher of Melville House, which has reissued all the Kayankaya novels. “You don’t realize you are reading a political novel, but you are.” 
Arjouni (formerly Michelsen-Bothe)
For years, readers and critics alike assumed that Mr. Arjouni, like Kayankaya, was at least partly Turkish. Mr. Arjouni made little effort to correct that impression, which was false. He was born in Frankfurt, the son of Hans Günter Michelsen, a fairly well-known playwright, and Ursula Bothe, a theatrical publisher, whose last name he used. 

Here's a picture of Arjouni. His father was an award-winning playwright and his mother was a player in elite German artistic circles: e.g., when I google her name, it comes up in a book about director Rainer Werner Fassbinder. You know, it really, really helps to be an insider, even when trying to be taken as an outsider.
When he began writing, he borrowed a new surname from Kadisha Arjouni, a Moroccan woman he met in France and to whom he was briefly married.

This is a not uncommon phenomenon among American authors who write about American Indians, such as Tony Hillerman who wrote novels about Navajo detectives. Forrest / Asa Carter, a former George Wallace speechwriter during the 1960s, wrote a huge bestseller "memoir" in the 1970s, The Education of Little Tree, about growing up half-Indian. 

Offhand, I'm not familiar with this phenomenon of authors sort of giving the impression of being Mexican American. Despite being vastly outnumbered, perhaps Native Americans have more literary marketplace oomph than do Mexican Americans.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

Native Americans have an aura of spirituality and mysticism that white people absolutely gobble up.

Anonymous said...

There was a case in the UK a few years ago of a white Englishman writing a novel as a female Bengali immigrant. As he did this to win a literary prize he was denounced.

Anonymous said...

For awhile, a lot of people incorrectly assumed James Patterson - the author of the suspense novels featuring black police detective Alex Cross - was black himself.

Whiskey said...

Need I add that women make up something like 90% of thriller and mystery readers? Only guys like Brad Thor or the late Vince Flynn write for a masculine readership that does not care about cool, non White ethnicity.

Anonymous said...

Karl May

Anonymous said...

"Native Americans have an aura of spirituality and mysticism that white people absolutely gobble up."

Not any more.
Indians are all about casinos now.

Geoff Matthews said...

J.K. Rowley used her initials because she didn't think that boys would read a book by a female author.
Bit delusional, if you think about it.

MC said...

Was required to read "The Education of Little Tree" in the seventh grade. What a misspent youth reading books that 45-yr-old women education professors like rather than the ones I would have liked.

Glossy said...

Very OT:

There is an article in Nature about "taboo genetics". It mentions the BGI study of the genetics of IQ. They have a poll:

Should scientists refrain from studying the genetics of intelligence?

Should scientists refrain from studying the genetics of race?

Should scientists refrain from studying the genetics of violence?

Should scientists refrain from studying the genetics of sexuality?


I already voted.

Anonymous said...

Need I add that women make up something like 90% of thriller and mystery readers?

Citation please. Or is this just another one of those things you just spout out?

Anonymous said...

Yes, I'd assume that thriller audiences would skew male. How many women read Tom Clancy?

But then again, I don't view the whole world through glasses printed with the words "Girls don't like me abloo abloo", so Whiskey's observations are usually a mystery to me.

Mr. Anon said...

"Whiskey said...

Need I add that women make up something like 90% of thriller and mystery readers?"

90%? Nonsense. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that women are the majority readership of mysteries. But thrillers in general? Do you imagine that most people who read novels by Tom Clancy or Frederick Forsyth are women?

Anonymous said...

Arjouni doesn't look particularly non-Turkish either. Plenty of Turks are that complexion. Turks are not Arabs.

peterike said...

Nobody ever went broke selling brown vibrancy to ultra whitey white people.

Anonymous said...

>Arjouni doesn't look particularly non-Turkish either.
He would totally pass, as long as he spoke without a foreign or incongruent local accent.

Let me tell you who would no way in hell pass for a Turk: Sailer or Derbyshire (Brimelow ?). They must have been taken for English tourists if/when they were in Turkey. So tall and so brightly red under Mediterranean sun, they would have stopped traffic wherever they went; if anyone heeded traffic lights in Turkey, that is.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of ruddy Anglos and vibrantly brown Turks:

> Nobody ever went broke selling brown vibrancy to ultra whitey white people.

A detective MUST be an outsider, but need not be brown. Poirot, Miss Marple are not brown. Neither is Sherlock Holmes. Nor "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo". But they are all outsiders.

I read some A. Christie in my teens. I wasn't ultra whitey white, or whitey white even, and her detectives weren't brown. I, never the less, agree that me buying second hand books shouldn't have made as much money for Christie's heirs as Arjouni made "selling brown vibrancy to ultra whitey white people" or as American tweens buying romances about "ultra whitey white" -AND glittering!- vampires made for Rice (was it?).

SFG said...

Native Americans' appeal has nothing to do with actual Native Americans. There is the romance of the lost cause, the curiosity about the defeated enemy, the connection to American history, etc.

Cail Corishev said...

I don't think Rice's vampires glittered. That came later.

Asher Jacobson said...

Nothing says authentic like Rigoberta Menchu.

Power Child said...

Though neither of them tried to actually pass themselves off as Mexican American, I always got the impression that both Steinbeck and Hemingway seemed determined to make sure we all understood that they identified more with Mexican Americans than with Americans.

I'm basing this on books like "Tortilla Flat," "Cannery Row," and "The Pearl" (by Steinbeck) and "The Sun Also Rises" and "The Old Man and the Sea" (by Hemingway), and those are just the ones I've read. Others have titles that lead me to believe they contain similar themes.

Anonymous said...

Let me tell you who would no way in hell pass for a Turk: Sailer or Derbyshire (Brimelow ?). They must have been taken for English tourists if/when they were in Turkey. So tall and so brightly red under Mediterranean sun, they would have stopped traffic wherever they went; if anyone heeded traffic lights in Turkey, that is.

You really have no clue what you're talking about.

-- JT

vinteuil said...

@Power Child: Tennessee Williams also had a thing for Latinos - and, more generally, anybody less uptight than WASPs.

see *Night of the Iguana*, etc.

Much good this did him!

vinteuil said...

@ Whiskey: "...women make up something like 90% of thriller and mystery readers..."

Typical Whiskey carelessness - conflating thrillers with mysteries, when they're very different critters.

Alfred Hitchcock understood this better than anybody: mysteries diffuse suspense, thrillers concentrate suspense.

So mysteries are mostly a chick thing, while thrillers are mostly a guy thing.

Anonymous said...

"I always got the impression that both Steinbeck and Hemingway seemed determined to make sure we all understood that they identified more with Mexican Americans than with Americans."

I love Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday but I never saw Mack and the boys as Mexican, nor the Bear Flag girls.

As for that Carlos Joad ...

Iberian said...

I have been in Turkey 20 years ago:
; at the time most Turks look like a cross between a Greek and a Armenian, being white pale or olive skinned most of the times;a sgnificant minoritie was a Baltic apearance (grey eyes, white-pink skin, blond hair, short round head) and some even look full Nordic. So, what happen? - How they became brown?
"Arabs are not Turks" - indeed...
Some months ago I give a job to an immigrant, a big and strong guy with at least 190 cm and 100 kg, pink skin, blue eyes, very blond, angular face... He was a good worker but can´t speak a decent Castillian, Portuguese, French or English... Only after I see his documents, I understood that he was not Ukranian, but an Arab from Aleppo, Syria...