The Arab whodunnit: crime fiction makes a comeback in the Middle East

The neo-noir revolution in the Arab world might be seen as nostalgic, but it allows writers to act as ombudsmen in the current political climate

The Guardian, Jonathan Guyer, 3 October 2014

From Baghdad to Cairo, a neo-noir revolution has been creeping across the Middle East. The revival of crime fiction since the upheavals started in 2011 should not come as a surprise. Noir offers an alternative form of justice: the novelist is the ombudsman; the bad guys are taken to court.

“Police repression is an experience that binds people throughout the Arab world,” writes Dartmouth professor Jonathan Smolin in Moroccan Noir: Police, Crime and Politics in Popular Culture. That experience of repression did not simply pre-date the 2011 uprisings; it stimulated the revolts themselves.

The genre has long been popular in the Middle East though often considered too lowbrow for local and international scholarship. Mid-century paperbacks – shelves of unexamined pulp, from Arabic translations to locally produced serials, along with contemporary reprints of Agatha Christie – languish in Cairo’s book markets. Writer Ursula Lindsay quips: “Cairo is the perfect setting for noir: sleaze, glitz, inequality, corruption, lawlessness. It’s got it all.”

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Posted on 02/03/2016 in FICTION Crime, FICTION Political, FICTION Thrillers, Literary Criticism, Noir, tagged as Arab world, crime fiction, genre, Hoopoe, novel


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