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Tuesday, 07 April 2009

Jakob Arjouni: Holy Eddy

Zurich: Diogenes Verlag, 2009

English translation by Jeffrey Tabberner

The story is outrageous. But its 246 pages flash by in what seems like half an hour.

Jakob AjourniAfter his excursions into small-town double standards (Hausaufgaben), and science fiction (Chez Max), with Holy Eddy, Jakob Arjouni returns to the genre in which he has become best known, that of crime fiction.  But Kemal Kayankaya, the hardboiled detective of the early novels, does not re-emerge here; Arjouni changes sides, and tells the story from the perspective of Eddy, a small-time criminal and confidence trickster, whom we first observe, all the tricks of the trade; he relieves a Swabian visitor to the capital of his coat and his credit card, spends out the latter at Karstadt until the card is stopped, and finally delivers the proceeds of the haul to his fence.

A confidence trickster? Do such people still exist? These days, only about as few as are called Eddy. It is a portrait of the underworld that Arjouni presents here, an evocation of the standard crime novel of the nineteen-forties or fifties. Eddy comes to realise that acting out a petty crime as a cabaret act is out of date, as he attempts to teach Robert, a young man in his mid-twenties from Wedding, how to pull off a complicated but elegant scam, at the end of which everyone goes home happy, including the victim. Robert doesn’t think much of this. He asks ‘Why don’t I just take my knife and say “Hand it over!”’

But Holy Eddy is, of course, more than a historicising piece of prose. We are in the Berlin of today, that is to say that of global capitalism, of crooked investors, and the economic crisis. Eddy battles on with his petty deceits, and together with his Russian friend Arkadi, gets through life as best he can as a street musician. He lives in a tenement courtyard in Kreuzberg, and adopting a sort of mimicry, he slips into the alternative bourgeoisie, with its small-town mentality. That is, until the day he happens to meet Horst König, the most-hated man in town, who as a little lad from Neukölln came into millions in the USA, and now back in Berlin is facing bankruptcy, which threatens to drag him and the entire city into the abyss.

This situation allows Arjouni, not only to deconstruct the Kreuzberg myth, and to expose the banality of this area of the city and its inhabitants, but also this type of individual, who has come into big money and celebrity, but who remains mentally in the Neukölln backblocks, and who lets himself get involved in all sorts of political wheeling and dealing. It’s tough for Eddy that König is even more cunning than he is — would he have had more success elsewhere? — and isn’t taken in by his clever deceit, and it’s tough for König that he loses control and smashes his head against a cast iron harpoon.

Eddy has to muster all his artistry in deception, in order to get the body out of the house in front of the neighbours and König’s bodyguards. It’s a stroke of luck that Angelina Jolie just happens to be in Berlin, and every sofa deliveryman in the city would love to get a glimpse of her . . .

How should one describe this book? A socially-critical burlesque? A crime novel of its time? Or, since Eddy is in love with König’s beautiful daughter, whom he has turned into an orphan, a small-time criminal romance?

Whatever, Arjouni’s latest work is funny, touching, romantic, devious, cheeky as well as poetic, sometimes naïve, and over all too quickly.

Last Updated ( Monday, 01 February 2010 )
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