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Some time ago I borrowed from my father a paperback science fiction novel with an Arab setting, possibly from the late eighties or nineties. Much, perhaps all, of the action takes place in the Medina of a city somewhere in the Middle East. I think it is a first-person narrative; the protagonist explains that his name, which I think is Majid, means "illness" in the Arabic of the Maghreb where he is from, where people are given unattractive names to fool the evil spirits. He is a poor but honest hustler in the Medina.

marked as duplicate by Otis, Jenayah, TheLethalCarrot, Blackwood, RDFozz Nov 18 '18 at 16:55

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  • You have a nice start and overview here but could you take a look at this guide to see if there is anything else you can edit in? I know you say you can't remember anything of the plot but if there's anything, even something tiny, you remember it will help us to identify this for you. – TheLethalCarrot Nov 16 '18 at 14:26
  • I'm afraid that I can't - I realise this is very little to go on, but all I have is an impression of intrigue, Majid piecing things together something like a classic American private-eye plot, and something of the atmosphere which I can't really convey. Sorry! – Spunto the Rat Boy Nov 16 '18 at 14:34
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I would guess this is one of the books from the Marîd Audran series by George Alec Effinger. Marîd is a investigator of sorts, the stories are kind of whodunnits and they are written in the first person. In the first book, When Gravity Fails, Marîd tells us:

Anyway, one of the superstitious practices clung to by some Muslims, particularly the nomadic tribes and the uncivilized fellahin of the Maghrib—i.e., my mother’s people—is to name a newborn with an affliction or a dreadful quality to ward off the envy of whatever spirit or witch might be paying too much attention. I’m told that this is done all over the world by people who have never even heard of the prophet, may peace be on his name. I am called Marîd, which means “illness,” and I was given it in the hope that I would not, in fact, suffer much illness in my lifetime. The charm seems to have had a certain positive effect. I had a burst appendix removed a few years ago, but that’s a common, routine operation, and it is the only serious medical problem I’ve ever had. I guess that may be due to the improved treatments available in this age of wonders, but who can say? Praise Allah, and all that.

  • Perfect, exactly right! Thank you very much. I'm looking forward to reading it again. – Spunto the Rat Boy Nov 16 '18 at 17:37

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