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Arabesk, by Barbara Nadel

September 9, 2014

Felony of the Week: Arabesk, by Barbara Nadel

I was visiting some friends over Labor Day weekend, and they have a marvelous set-up that allows them to stream music from their computers over speakers in various rooms of the house. Offered for our listening pleasure was the “Harry Belafonte” station on Pandora, which didn’t seem to have a massive amount to do with Mr. Belafonte, but was a line-up of pretty much everything I want to hear. We segued from “Mambo Italiano” to “The Way You Look Tonight” to “Sing Sing Sing” to “The Sloop John B” to “Jamaica Farewell,” and my but I was a happy woman.

I feel almost as sorry for people who don’t love music as I do for people who don’t love books. What an enormous amount of joy they’re missing out on! A natural-born glutton, I like as much pleasure on my plate as possible, so though I don’t like to read while music’s playing – the two experiences cancel each other out – I love to play music in my head as I read, bopping along to the soundtrack that, in my imagination, animates the plot. Readers of our blog know that we often create “playlists” for our books, offering our take on the music that the characters might hear on the radio or sing around the piano.

We’re hardly alone in this endeavor: George Pelecanos, for instance, has gone so far as to include CDs with some of his mystery novels. And F&M’s own Sarah Rayne has talked at length about the extent to which music is a silent player in many of her gorgeously spooky reads: Ghost Song, which revolves around an abandoned London music hall, is practically hummable.

The book of ours that is most thickly laced with music, though, is Arabesk, the third in Barbara Nadel’s atmospheric series set in contemporary Istanbul. In a musical context, “Arabesk” refers to a genre that is passionate, massively popular, massively overwrought and somewhat déclassé: It’s like an entire radio station that plays nothing but Mariah Carey. One of the main characters is obsessed with Arabesk’s throbbing chords and aching melodies; they make him feel alive to his own feelings in a way that gives him great pity (and contempt) for the higher-class Inspector Suleyman, with his elite musical tastes.

You may not love Arabesk music – I don’t – but I do love the book, and the music enriches it to an extraordinary extent. Trust me, if you’re a music lover, take a chance on Arabesk, on sale this week at 25% off. And before you dive in, give a listen to Ibrahim Tatlises, one of the giants of the genre:

There’s an aphorism I once heard, something to the effect that “They deny it, but in their hearts men love fat women, sweet wine, and the music of Tchaikovsky.” I suspect that the Turkish version would substitute Arabesk. Spend a little while with Ibrahim – or with Ferdi Tayfur

or Sibel Can

and see if you don’t find yourself yearning, just a little, for an ice-cold bottle of Blue Nun.

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