Q and A with author Daniella Bernett
Novel set in Paris (both Halal and Kosher…)
8th February 2015
Arab Jazz by Karim Miské (translated by Sam Gordon) – novel set in Paris… and Brooklyn
A murder mystery set largely in the 19th arrondissement of Paris – an area to the north of the centre, and a little off the main tourist map. A place where Islamists live alongside orthodox Jews. The two exist peacefully side by side, pretty much ignoring each other (except when some youths form a cross-cultural hip-hop group, or when – a little later in life – they join together in drug dealing activity…).
Laura, an Air France stewardess, is brutally and ritualistically murdered. The initial prime suspect is Ahmed, a mentally troubled individual, who lives in the apartment beneath hers. He has a key to her flat (and there was no forced entry) because he looks after her orchids when she is away on trips. But the investigating police officers – Rachel and her partner Jean (as in the French boy’s name…) – very quickly work out that he is harmless and incapable of the crime. He is determined to help them find the murderer, and quietly falls for Rachel in the process.
The story proceeds at page-turning speed involving both corrupt policeman and very unpleasant Jehovah’s Witnesses. It is very well written and genuinely exciting. Miské has a real talent for exploring the multicultural nature of this part of Paris. He also writes about Brooklyn with authority. He himself, now a journalist and documentary maker, is born to a Mauritian Muslim father and a French Atheist Marxist mother… he clearly knows his subject matter extremely well. One of the areas he has covered is the common roots between Islam and Judaism. Arab Jazz is his first novel, and it bodes very well for the future. Rachel and Jean are the type of investigative police who will grow over time as we become more familiar with their modus operandi.
All in all, Arab Jazz is a very worthwhile read that introduces us to a side of Paris that we might not normally come across. It is a gripping police thriller set against an enthralling background. It has won widespread recognition for Miské – including making him the winner of both the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière and the English Pen Award.. And special words of praise should also go to Sam Gordon who provides a quite excellent translation, and to Miles Hyman for his extremely striking cover illustration. It is one of the best we have seen for quite a while – and features in our ‘Book Covers that caught our Eye‘ Board over on Pinterest.
Tony for the TripFiction team
The book jacket really caught our eye, so we posed a few question for the designer, Miles Hyman:
TF: The cover for Arab Jazz is a beautifully composed and striking cover. Please can you tell us the kind of brief you had to work to at the outset?
MH: The book is always the best of briefs, and reading Karim Miské’s book gave me much of what I needed to find the cover image. I was also intrigued by the excellent article “Turf wars in Paris” sent to me by Miské’s UK publisher Christopher Maclehose, sent to help give the book some context.
TF: How did the ideas gel once you had read the book?
MH: I’ve lived in Paris for more than a decade, but it felt important to capture not only the Paris one sees everyday but the complex, multi-ethnic, multi-confessional cityscape that is the backdrop for Miské’s story. The murder scene is a strongly visual event and sets the mood for much of the book, and that became a clear starting point for me, the chance to contrast the personal and the public, interior and exterior — that complex, symbolically charged urban environment we see beyond the balcony railing. I wanted to show the dense intertwining of people and cultures that Paris has developed over the last few decades.
TF: It is a warm palette, how did you choose the colours?
MH: I tend to use a warm palette, so that choice came naturally. The warm interior, the horror of what is depicted there, contrasts sharply with the far more sobre tones of the buildings, as if the electric atmosphere of what has just happened is already confronted by a far colder reality outside in the street. It felt like a successful choice of colors for me.
TF: What are your personal thoughts on the cover in its final version?
MH: I’m delighted. Sometimes a drawing develops and evolves, changes are made, colors are developped and in the end we are left with an image that just sort of “comes together” and works on several levels. I’m thrilled to see that this cover falls into that category.
TF: How did you come into your profession? And what advice would you give to anyone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
MH: I started working in illustration in the mid-1980’s and at that time there was quite a bit of work and far fewer people working in illustration. That’s changed now, which means young illustrators have to work harder and be far more creative in getting their first assignments, but it also means that the profession has become a very exciting, diverse and creative one. I would encourage anyone considering illustration, because I think it’s a fine profession, but I would also stress how much work is involved, and how much investment it requires. The best advice I could give beyond that is to encourage young illustrators to try as many different techniques as possible, to diversify and experiment: always remain curious and try many different techniques before settling into one particular style.
TF: What books do you yourself enjoy reading?
MH: I read a variety of things, from general literature to mysteries to non-fiction. I’m currently working on a graphic novel where Graham Greene is the central character, so I’ve been re-reading many of his novels.
And you can meet the author Karim Miské at the following venues:
OXFORD – Karim Miské will be talking to Tariq Ali at Blackwell’s Oxford, 7pm on 9 February 2015 Tickets
FRENCH INSTITUTE, LONDON – Fact and Fiction’ Karim Miské, Suzanne Moore, Kenan Malik and Ben Faccini will be discussing multiculturalism and fundamentalism at the French Institute on 10 February at 7pm Tickets
WATERSTONES, PICCADILLY – Elif Shafak in conversation with Karim Miské and Sarah Lotz, at Waterstones Piccadilly talking about ‘Colliding Faiths – religious fundamentalism in global fiction’. 7pm, 11 February 2015 Tickets free, but email: email@example.com