The Sirens of Suspense

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Born in 1964 in Abidjan to a Mauritanian father and a French mother, Karim MiskÚ grew up in Paris before leaving to study journalism in Dakar. He now lives in France, and is making documentary films on a wide range of subjects, including deafness, for which he learned sign language, and the common roots between the Jewish and Islamic religions. ARAB JAZZ is the author's first novel.


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In addition to being a novelist, you’re also a documentary filmmaker, do you feel being behind a camera informed your writing style? If so, how?

I was a documentary filmmaker long before I began writing Arab Jazz, which is my first fiction work, and I think it is the best way one could imagine to collect an incredible amount of stories and characters. This activity gave me the opportunity to travel the world and my own country, meet all kinds of people and learn almost everything about their lives, to make a documentary film, you have to use your empathy, which is also very usefull when you want to create a character. To answer more precisely to your question, It is not easy for me to talk about my writing style, but I guess that having spent most of my adult life filming has had some influence on me. Many readers told me that my writing is visual, I guess they’re right.


You included a playlist of songs at the end of the book - something I always love authors to do. Is this likely a result of your background as filmmaker? What do you listen to while you write?

I liked the idea of the playlist, it felt kind of natural because music was a constant source of inspiration during the writing process. I listen mainly to urban music, from electro to hip hop, modern African music, reggae, rock, trip hop… The music that made me, I guess.


ARAB JAZZ, in addition to being a great mystery, also deals strongly with issues of religion and politics. Your protagonist, Ahmed, is religiously non-observant, your detectives are an atheist Ashkenazi Jew and a communist, you also have immigrant  and Jehovah’s Witness characters, among others. Did you go into this book intending upon using it as a mirror for the current political climate? Was it simply the best way to tell the story you wanted told? 

There was no plan at all when I began writing Arab Jazz. Actually, I was barely conscious that I was writing a novel, not to mention a crime novel, and I had no clue about what was the reason of Laura’s murder. Slowly, I understood that religion was indeed a core issue, but I was exactly as lost as the Rachel and Jean, the cops and I had to investigate if I wanted to find the murderer(s). Of course, I have always been very interested in religious issues, and I had just finished making a TV documentary for the French and German cultural channel Arte about religious fundamentalism in France, spending months in the company of Lubavitch Jews, Evangelical Christians and Tablighi Muslims, when I began writing Arab Jazz. I think that I had to write freely about what I had just been experiencing during the shooting and editing. But I was not conscious of this need. That’s how it all began.


Can you talk a bit about how the book was received in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in France?

The book was published in France three years before the attacks, but it was published in the UK just a few weeks after the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Casher murders. Of course, there, it was seen as a very ‘timely’ novel, which was a little be strange for me: when I was writing the novel, I never could have imagined that such attacks would be carried by youngsters from the 19th arrondissement very similar to the ones I portrayed in Arab Jazz.


What’s coming next for you?

I’m currently writing the second volume of Arab Jazz, which I would very much like to turn into a trilogy.



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Book he wishes he could read again for the first time: THE MASTER AND MARGARITA by Mikhail Bulgakov.

What he's reading now: LE TEMPS RETROUV╔ by Marcel Proust.

Period in history he'd like to visit: The 15th century, a period of heavy changes, just like ours.

If he could meet one of his characters: Rachel.