Arabesk, the title of a book published by Barbara Nadel in 2000, is what the Turks call a sentimental type of Turkish pop music loved by many but looked down upon by upper class intellectuals. I’ve just listened to a sample on the internet and although I can’t comment on the lyrics, the music is a bit like Greek bouzouki music (although what I heard was more mournful) and also resembles what’s called “eastern” music in Israel. This “eastern music” is “eastern” enough to make some of the singers popular in various Arab countries, even when the singers’ Israeli identity is known. As far as their position in the music hierarchy goes, these styles could be compared with American country and western music.
Nadel has an engaging middle-aged Istanbul police inspector as a protagonist and sets up several interesting plot lines, all woven together with descriptions of the sights and sounds of Istanbul and life in Turkey. The central murder mystery is connected with the Yazidi sect as well as arabesk music, and although I had some idea who the Yazidis are because of the reports of their current dire situation in Iraq, I didn’t realize that there are also Yazidis in Turkey, where they are thought to be devil worshipers.
I enjoyed the book because of the good points mentioned above, but it would have been even better if not for a distracting writing style. Here’s an example of her favorite sentence structure, chosen at random: “Even without ever clapping eyes upon the actual person of Tansu Hanim one could, if one were observant and knowledgeable, roughly gauge her seniority by looking at her home.” This strikes me as an imperfect imitation of a somewhat old fashioned British mannerism, imperfect because there are so many of these sentences and all the tenses and pronouns in all the clauses don’t always manage to slot in properly at the end.