Each year, the storyteller, Hassan, gathers listeners to the city square of Marrakesh (Morocco) to share their recollections of a young, foreign couple who mysteriously disappeared years earlier. As various witnesses describe their encounters with the couple—their tales overlapping, confirming, and contradicting each other—Hassan hopes to light upon details that will explain what happened to them, and to absolve his own brother, who is in prison for their disappearance. As testimonies circle an elusive truth, the couple takes on an air as enigmatic as their fate. But is this annual storytelling ritual a genuine attempt to uncover the truth, or is it intended instead to weave an ambiguous mythology around a crime? The book explores in detail these questions to finally unravel the mystery.
This book employins literary tricks such as making use of multiple narrators, multiple perspectives, and stories embedded within stories: in fact, the novel is a story about a storyteller, who tells a story within a story. I enjoyed how the narratives somehow contradicted each other. One narrator would give one take on it, and another would claim that the previous narration was a fabrication.
The author’s talent for describing Morocco, Marrakesh, and the Jemaa el Fna is breathtaking. As Hassan’s story builds, the square fills with drummers, jugglers, acrobats, fortune tellers, beggars, artists, poets, and singers. The Jemaa el Fna itself becomes another character in the tale. This place is magical, and has a life of its own. I was enthralled by the beautiful descriptions of the orange sellers, the acrobats, the storytellers, the mosque, and so forth.But in the end, the novel is about love and its various manifestations in the face of adversity. How two lovers, torn apart by destiny and politics carry on their relationship and finally reaches a conclusion dictated by the society.
My only problem with the book is its length. Even though it employs various literary devices neatly, in certain portions it just meanders… the narrative drags and ultimately sucks out some fun from this ride. The story is brilliant in parts when Hasan comes back every year to tell the tales, but certain sentimental detours it takes to reach the final climax plays down on your patience and you really want to flip pages to move on in the narrative.
I am going with 4/5 for Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya’s second book, ‘The Storyteller of Marrakesh’. It is slow in certain portions, but provides sensual and evocative responses from the readers. It portrays a throbbing picture of Moroccan social dynamics, through scenes of paternal authority and men-women relationships. If you are not put off by multiple non-linear narratives, if you are a fan of exploring various cultures through books, this book is just perfect for you. It is also billed as the first book in the trilogy of novels set in the Muslim world. If this is any indication, i am lining up for the next two whenever they come out.