November 10, 2011

What to drink while reading Jakob Arjouni


Two lit-bloggers, Caroline  of Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy of Lizzy’s Literary Life have concocted one of the biggest cross-blog celebrations we have ever seen. Planned for months, the two bloggers have involved dozens of bloggers in their inaugural German Literature Month and the month they chose just so happens to be November.

Since these two noble bloggers have chosen a subject very dear to our hearts we decided to join in the fun. And by join in I mean that we plan on pairing our books with German drink.

In part II of our four part series pairing booze with book in celebration of this ambitious blog project we find ourselves staring at the topic of crime fiction. German crime fiction—to be more specific—and we just so happen to have one hell of an author for such a thing. Or more accurately: one hell of a detective.

The four novels in Jakob Arjouni’s Kayankaya series are set in the author’s birthplace of Frankfurt, which the author describes as the “dullest town in Germany.” Dull isn’t a great thing when you’re talking about crime fiction and Arjouni’s Frankfurt is certainly anything but. Paramilitary groups turned extortionists, eco-terrorists and the slave-trade all rear their head against Arjouni’s singular hero.

About that hero… The hard-drinking protagonist of these hard-boiled wonders is Kemal Kayankaya, whose wise-cracking wit is instantly reminiscent of Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade. Kayankaya is of Turkish descent and this sets the stage for Arjouni’s commentary on racism, which threads through the entire series. Racial slurs and prejudice against immigrant non-whites is what separates these books from more mundane “mysteries.”

Deciding which of the four books to choose for this post was easy. While each book has some seriously hard drinking going on in it, More Beer recommended itself for very obvious reasons.

And it doesn’t take long to arrive at the first instance of heavy drinking. In fact, all one need do is open the book to the first page. First paragraph, really.

The coffee was weak and the soft, moist cheese sandwich must have spent many days in the refrigerator. I tore chunks off it and washed them down with coffee. The sticky counter smelled of beer. Two meters to one side, a rumpled man dozed over his corn schnapps. From time to time he blew his nose, then wiped his mouth and forehead with the same handkerchief. He was staring at the framed verses above the sink: A FEW BEERS A NIGHT, THAT’S QUITE ALL RIGHT—A SCHNAPPS AT DAWN, YOUR HANGOVER’S GONE. I glanced at the sports pages next to his elbow.

“How did Gladbach do?”

“Lost, two to zero,” he mumbled, without raising his eyes.

I rapped on the counter.

“More coffee. A little stronger.”

Not only do we have a drink recommendation ready at hand on the first page, but also a bit of drinking wisdom. Remember, if it weren’t for hangovers then just anyone could drink. So where do you turn to if you want to knock back a corn schnapps or two in the morning to clear the air. I hope you’ll go with Heydt. The following is take from the Heydt website and I think it is a more than adequate description:


The corn schnapps made by Heydt is a pure, totally genuine, natural product. Plain and unadorned. The top quality of our corn schnapps depends on just two key factors:crystal-clear water and carefully-toasted grain. The secret lies in the art and skill of our toasters and, of course, in the unique characteristics of the grain types used.

Plus Heydt’s is not going to break the bank at €7.99. It may do many other unsavory things to you, but bankruptcy is not one of them.

But what about that beer? A beer is being stared at or imbibed on nearly every page of More Beer, making this a book that will surely leave readers more than a little bit thirsty. So what to pair with a Kayankaya thriller? Efes Pilsen, of course.

Efes is an inexpensive German style pilsner produced in Turkey. This is saying something, as Turkey is nearly 98% Muslim and intoxicants are considered haraam (forbidden) in orthodox Islam. Lucky for Efes, the population of Turkey doesn’t seem too concerned with halal lifestyle. Efes is now brewed in several countries, including Germany. Efes is a straw colored beer with a light but tangy hop. It uses rice in the brewing process, which makes it a malt beverage and not a proper beer according to the German Reinheitsgebot, or the “purity order” for beer.

The fact that drinking an Efes and calling it a beer goes against the stodgy Reinheitsgebot makes it the clear choice for drinking while reading a Kayankaya thriller. It’s kind of perfect, really.

Paul Oliver is the marketing manager of Melville House. Previously he was co-owner of Wolfgang Books in Philadelphia.