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.
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.