Tag Archives: Frankfurt

Happy Birthday, Turk!


This review is part of the German Literature Month, hosted by Lizzie (Lizzies Literary Life) and Caroline (Beauty is a Sleeping Cat)


Kemal Kayankaya – the name is without doubt Turkish. But Kemal doesn’t speak Turkish because he was adopted by a German couple when he was still a toddler. His parents, immigrants from Anatolia in Frankfurt/Main, died young. And so Kemal grew up like any other German child, except for his name.

A very clever choice by the author, I can say. Because it makes the hero of Happy Birthday, Turk! a born outsider – for many Germans he is the Turk who they think cannot speak proper German and should probably work as a garbage collector and for the Turks he is encountering in his work as a private investigator he is the fellow countryman who truly understands them because he has the same background as they do. But both sides are wrong.

In reality this cocky, quick-witted young man in his late twenties with the talent for seeking trouble who after several attempts to find his true vocation somehow acquired a license for his business, and who has an issue with alcohol, is – like many literary heroes of this genre – a romantic to the core. Just scratch a bit on the surface and you will see…

And this is the case with which the Philip Marlowe of Frankfurt has to deal in this book:

Ahmed Hamul, the husband of Ilter, Kayankaya’s client, was found stabbed to death on the streets of Frankfurt’s red light district. Since the police is not very eager to solve the case and because the wife has little trust in them, she is asking her alleged compatriot for help to find out who murdered her husband. Kayankaya accepts and finds himself soon in a case that gets much bigger than he initially thought.

While meeting the family, K. remarks that the brother-in-law has a particularly low opinion of the victim and except for Ahmet’s widow nobody seems really very interested in finding the truth. Also that the family is hiding the youngest daughter under the pretext that she is ill is a hint for the private eye that something is fishy here.

The police proves little willingness to give the needed information to Kemal and his impudent behavior to some of the admittedly racist policemen doesn’t exactly help. Kommissar Futt (a dialect word for vagina by the way), one of the least endearing exemplars in this biotop is leading the investigation and makes it a personal issue to keep Kayankaya, who fooled him once as alleged investigator from the Turkish Embassy, in the dark.

But fortunately, Kayankaya is in friendly terms with the retired police commissioner Löff who is pulling some strings with his former colleagues and is also later of great help. The slightly chaotic Kayankaya and his unofficial assistant who in his very German pedantic way tries to teach his friend some order and discipline and organization are an odd couple and this adds to the humor in the book which is frequently supported by witty dialogues and descriptions.

While some facts are hinting at a conflict in the red light district – Ahmet had obviously a girl friend among the prostitutes there – it is soon obvious that the issue is bigger than Kayankaya thought. It turns out that Ahmet was close with his father-in-law, who got killed in a car accident just months before. Unless the car accident wasn’t exactly an accident as one of the children that witnessed the event, claimed. But Kayankaya cannot ask the child, because it too fell victim to an accident…

I don’t want to give the whole story away, that would spoil the fun for possible future readers of the book. Honestly speaking, the plot was rather conventional and I saw it more or less coming from an early stage of the book.

But when this sounds a bit derogative, I don’t really mean it. Arjouni was 23 when the book was published first and it is quite an accomplishment for such a young author to deliver such a fast-paced classical hard-boiled crime novel with an interesting main character.

And there is more to the book. As someone who has lived in Frankfurt for several years in the 1990s I can say that the book gives an authentic impression of the place to its readers. Starting from the Frankfurt dialect that is used in the German version (yes, Kayankaya “babbelt” frequently in Frankfurterish – how funny is that?) to the description of the locations (“Wasserhäuschen” inclusive – a kind of kiosk open 24/7, literally “little water house”, the typical place for an alcoholic to buy and drink his booze), it all fits. And there are plenty of hilarious situations that give Kayankaya not only opportunity for acerbic or ironic remarks but also for a playful inventiveness on his (and the author’s) side.

Was Frankfurt, the city with the highest percentage of migrants (and the highest crime rate in Germany) really that racist in the 1980s? I cannot really say from my own experience – but I am not a migrant and my living conditions and the milieu in which I lived and worked there a few years later were very different from Kayankaya’s. Since the whole book is so well written and researched, probably it was.

A good decision by the author was also to choose Frankfurt and not Berlin as the location for this novel. In no other place in Germany is the connection between big money and crime so tangible as here, no other city in Germany looks like a miniature version of Metropolis, no other city has this mixture of backwater mentality and delusions of grandeur.

The only bad thing about the book is that it is such a fast read. I finished it in one sitting during a flight from Istanbul to Almaty. But there are four more Kayankaya novels and I am quite sure you will like all of them. (The whole set is translated and available in the Melville International Crime series)

Jakob Arjouni died last year after a long battle with cancer. A real loss for German literature and especially for crime fiction aficionados. I can also strongly recommend his Magic Hoffmann, a crime novel too (but without Kayankaya).


Jakob Arjouni: Happy Birthday, Turk!, transl. by Anselm Hollo, Melville House, New York 2011

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Raw Material

Let’s start with the title. Raw Material is a correct translation of the German word Rohstoff. But Stoff means in German not only material, it is also a slang word for illegal drugs (dope) such as heroin or in this case raw opium.

The story of Jörg Fauser’s novel starts in Istanbul in the second half of the 1960s. The narrator – although it is a novel we may assume that the book is Fauser’s own life story – is living in the (then) run-down Cağaloğlu district, a bit north of the Blue Mosque.

During the 1960s, Istanbul and here more specifically the neighborhoods of Tophane and Cağaloğlu, were favorite hang-out places for all kind of Western young people: would-be writers and painters, drug addicts, petty criminals, political radicals plotting for a somehow diffuse revolution to come, hippies, beatniks. Together with Ede, a painter friend from Stuttgart, the protagonist, a young man with the strong ambition to become a writer, is sharing a tin structure on the roof of a dubious hotel. Life is cheap and so are the drugs. In an odd way a kind of idyll, even during the cold Istanbul winter:

“One poured some gasoline on the stone floor and lit it, and as long as the flames were giving off some warmth, the other looked for a vein. We took everything we could get, primarily it was raw opium, which we cooked, Nembutal for dozing off and all sorts of uppers to get going. When we were going, we had to get more dope and everything else we needed – we lived predominantly on tea and sweets – and then we lay there, wrapped in our blankets, played with the cat and worked. Ede painted, and I wrote.”

The reader is a bit concerned about the fate of this hero. Chances seem to be rather small that he will not end like so many drug addicts. But his genuine passion for writing and not so much the drugs (which he is replacing mainly by alcohol during the course of the story) keep him going and after his return and the start of a relationship with a girl, his life takes a turn, kind of.

In order to support himself, he is writing articles for a number of mostly short-lived magazines that are popular among young people in Germany. He has an opportunity to travel, even to conduct an interview with the famous beat poet William S. Burroughs. The story of the Burroughs interview is hilarious. After some friendly small talk at the beginning, Burroughs comes out with the one subject that really interests him: dope.

“What kind of stuff did you take?” “Oh, Opium mainly.” “What – raw opium? You didn’t mainline, intravenously?” ”Yup.” “Young man”, Burroughs said with the hint of a smile. “You must have been completely off your rocker.”

The literary cut-up technique for which Burroughs was famous is only a minor topic of this conversation. Burroughs comes again back to the subject of drug addiction, and how he was cured from it with the help of a new, but very strange method called the Apomorphine Formula.

“He disappeared into the next room, came back a second later and handed me a magazine-sized brochure wrapped in brown paper: William S. Burroughs: APO-33 Bulletin. The subtitle read: A Report on the Synthesis of the Apomorphine Formula.

“You can keep it”, he said. “My small contribution to healthcare,” and laughed; his choppy ha-ha-ha came from rather shadowy regions. “The apomorphine formula,” he said and sat down, “is a contribution to the cleansing and detoxification of the planet. Detoxification from what? From illness, addiction, ignorance, prejudice and stupidity. The question is: Are the people now in power interested in this detoxification? You know, young man, what the answer is to that.”

The strangeness and obvious paranoia of Burroughs were maybe never described better as in the last paragraph I quoted above.

In the second half of the story, the protagonist moves to Berlin, later to Frankfurt, starting to embark on a more regular life although he is living in an illegally occupied house. An attempt to work as a part of a film crew fails miserably but gives Fauser again an opportunity to show his self-ironic sense of humor.

As we have the feeling that the hero is a more stable person now, the reader’s attention is probably shifting a bit more to what is going on around our protagonist. Frankfurt in the late 1960s was one of the birth places of the German Student Revolt (and also of the brutal terrorism of the so-called Red Army Faction a.k.a. Baader Meinhof Gang). Fauser’s hero, is living through this time more as an amused spectator than as a real part of that student movement. The fake romanticism and annoying self-congratulation of so many literary or autobiographical books on the student revolt by people who participated in it (or later claimed to have participated in it) is completely missing in Fauser’s novel, and that’s one of it’s many strengths.

Fauser, together with Rolf Dieter Brinkmann, was one of the representatives of the Beat Generation in Germany. But we would not do him justice if we saw him as an epigone of a literary movement that he tried to copy. Fauser had his own voice and style. He was also an experienced journalist, and that is also much to the profit of his works. His stories are written without much fuss or affectation, in a precise, matter-of-fact way, with a lot of self-irony and humor, something that was extremely rare among writers of his time. There is a kind of raw energy about this and the other books of this author which make them very appealing to me. I like Fauser’s books a lot.

Fauser was run over by a truck in 1987, while crossing an Autobahn as a pedestrian in the night after his 43rd birthday. (Rolf Dieter Brinkmann was also run over by a car in 1975.)  Fauser’s work deserves to be discovered. For me one of the best German-language authors.

An English edition of Raw Material will be published in November 2014.

Raw Material



Jörg Fauser: Rohstoff, Alexander Verlag, Berlin 2004; Raw Material (transl. Jamie Bulloch), The Clerkenwell Press/Profile Books (publication date: 13 November 2014) 

(The quotes in this blog are translated by Marc Svetov. © Berlin Verlag 2009)

© Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Thomas Hübner and mytwostotinki.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.