Effendi: The Second Arabesk
Earthlight / Simon and Schuster
UK Hardcover First
376 Pages; £12.99
Date Reviewed: 04-22-02
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel
Following up is hard to do. 'Effendi' builds on 'Pashazade', spinning new riffs from the best of the old. It revises and re-writes, then flat out improvises. The worlds and characters of 'Pashazade' have become an orchestra that Jon Courtenay Grimwood plays with ease. 'Effendi' is Grimwood's second serenade to his invented city and the world of El Iskandryia. He revisits the themes and characters that he created in the first and plays through new and stronger variations. But it's not a just a twist of the volume knob. He takes a lot of chances here, most of which pay off. 'Effendi' shows Grimwood well on his way to creating a work inspired by the Alexandria Quartet that could equal Durrell's in complexity and experimentation.
'Effendi' begins chronologically before the end of 'Pashazade'. It will be a while before the reader notices Grimwood is retelling events in that novel from different points of view. It's a strangely satisfying experience. Simultaneously, Grimwood plunges the reader into a rather nightmarish march across the Sudan, as one 'Ka' journeys towards a scenario straight out of today's headlines. Directed by the voice of an unseen Colonel, Ka and a small band of children -- from pre-teens to teenagers -- acquire guns and kills as they look for an opportunity to commit an act of terrorism on a grand scale. Back in the timeline the reader knows and loves, in El Iskandryia, Raf, Hani and Zara all must confront Raf's new position and the challenges offered by the representatives of the US, German and France. These nations all have an agenda for the free city of El Iskandryia, and it involves the characters we have come to love.
'Effendi' manages the same diffuse feel as 'Pashazade', all the while building on the world created in that novel. Readers are given a new character to enjoy as DJ Avatar, a more minor player in 'Pashazade', comes into full focus in 'Effendi'. As he did with Raf in 'Pashazade', Grimwood grows up Avatar in the course of this novel. Raf himself takes on a new level of maturity and is forced to new levels of cunning by the multi-faceted assaults on his family and his city. Serial mutilations and murders, the rise of a heavy-handed fundamentalist faction, the machinations of multinational corporations and the fate of his almost-father-in-law, Hamzah Effendi all rest in Raf's hands.
Fortunately, Grimwood is more than up to a solution for the many problems he poses, and he answers all of the questions he raises. Just when the reader thinks that Grimwood is going to leave a stone unturned, it flipped and the wriggling things underneath are brought into the hard light of his excellent prose. There are some breathtaking moments of writing in this novel, and some moments of sheer terror. The monsters are all locked up in the people however, and that makes this novel more insightful than readers might first expect it to be.
As befits the second novel in a series, Grimwood expands on the boundaries of his world and clarifies matters that were left blurry in the previous installment. He does this while performing some interesting experiments in his prose and plotting. He also gets a little bit more into the science fictional aspects of his alternate history. Now that the reader is seeing more of the "civilized" world, that technology has more of a chance to present itself. When it does, Grimwood stretches the envelope that he has created. Some readers will be distressed, but most will be pleased. I counted myself in the latter camp.
It's worthy of noting that 'Pashazade' and 'Effendi', though clearly parts of a series, do not leave the reader hanging, waiting for a resolution that does not come at the end of the novel. Instead, they leave the reader feeling satisfied with a rich tapestry of creative thought, and looking forward to more. They are the equivalent of a perfect exotic meal, full of strange surprises, unexpected flavors and unanticipated combinations. They leave you sated, not thirsting for more, but slowly, lazily, moving your brain in the direction of anticipating the next repast. There's no cliffhanging here. Just the memory of two great books and the promise of more to come.