Sam’s brain thinks ahead at full speed. It’s out of the question for her to give him this chance, then have to watch his devilish efficient demonstration of how to do it, dropping a little comment on the way such as: « at one time or another you have to know how to get things done. We’re not going to wake him up softly with a cup of tea! » a phrase she could quickly translate as « what the fuck are you up to, Baydar, stood there whispering sweet nothings in his ear! »***
This is Négar Djavadi’s second book, Arène, as in the Arena in Ancient Rome. The real leading role in this book is the forgotten Eastern arrondissements of Paris, centred here on Belleville, where the different housing estates have been forgotten by the politicians, they are poor, with an economy based on drug trafficking and tit for tat killings between the young gang members of the different estates, added to this are the many migrants sleeping in the streets.
A young man dies on the bank of a canal and the powder keg explodes.
Djavadi tells this story through a huge cast of characters, firstly from the point of view of Benjamin Grossman, in charge of the sector « France » of BeCurrent, the primary competitor of Netflix, back from Los Angeles and visiting his childhood home in one of these housing estates. In between being a person of major importance for the local entertainment industry and being unknown on the streets of Belleville, and his culture shock coming back to this from LA. Grossman may be responsible for the death, having pushed the young man, thinking he had stolen Grossman’s phone, the man, Issa Zeitounï, falls awkwardly and bangs his head before getting up and walking away.
There is the young policewoman Baydar, of Turkish origin, already disowned by her family for joining the police, illustrated in the opening quote, under pressure from her macho team mate, Dalloz and who finds Issa by the banks of the canal, thinks he is a drugged migrant, shakes him and then ceding to the pressure, kicking him to try to get a response, before discovering he is dead.
There is Camille a young sixth form student and video activist who films Baydar and edits her video to show the police not even leaving the local people alone when they are dead but kicking their corpses:
Like everyone on Twitter, Camille is after popularity and followers. Anyone who would sign up to a social network without these aims would be relegated to being a third class citizen, an”Invisible”, a “Beggar”, condemned to a long stay in the hold with the rats and other forgotten people.***
And then there is Stéphane Jahanguir Sharif, an observer of society, as his Twitter handle goes, who’s part in the drama is to use his followers to whip up dissent, and his trusted supporters on the ground to lead the violence.
There wouldn’t be a story without a tragedy as things get out of hand, there will be winners and losers but few will be indifferent, and of course the local politician tries to shine.
There were a lot of characters, requiring concentration to follow all of the strands of this story, looking at how little it can take in our on line society to whip up violence. I would read this book again.
First Published in French by Levi in 2020.
*** my translation
The quotes as read in French before translation
Le cerveau de Sam anticipe à toute vitesse. Hors de question qu’elle lui laisse cette opportunité, puis le regarde achever sa démonstration, redoutablement efficace, balançant au passage une petite phrase du genre: « À un moment, il faut savoir en découdre. On va pas se l’jouer pensionnat chic, réveil en douceur et compagnie! » Phrase au qu’elle se dépêcherait de traduire par: « qu’est-ce que tu fous, Baydar, plantée là, à lui susurrer des petits mots doux à l’oreille! »
Comme tout le monde sur Twitter, Camille court après la popularité et les followers. D’ailleurs, s’inscrire sur un réseau social sans set objectif vous reléguerait très vite au rang de citoyen de troisième classe, un Invisible, un Gueux, condamné à un séjour prolongé dans la cale parmi les rats et les autre oubliés.