Mysterious Skeins

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The Storyteller of Marrakesh, Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya, book reviewStories of disappearance told through different points of view can be found in films like Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock and Kurosawa’s Rashomon. What this different viewpoint technique does is to give us a take on human nature and to tell us that very often what we believe is not always correct. Roy-Bhattacharya sets his novel in the exotic Jemaa el Fna square of Marrakesh. A place that in the modern world truly approximates to a melting pot from A Thousand And One Nights. At the centre of this collection of jugglers, musicians and magicians is the storyteller Hassan who begins to tell his captivated audience the story of a disappearance, that of a foreign couple, a woman like a gazelle and man with skin ‘the colour of sand’ who vanished many years ago. Hassan’s brother Mustafa has been implicated in their disappearance, but without any real proof.

The story has the elements to hold his listeners enthralled in the beginning, a beautiful woman with a sense of doom hanging around her, a man whose life has been dedicated to falling love and another who is a stranger to the world of Morocco. However, Roy-Bhattacharya/Hussein’s narrative is not a straight linear one. Hussein’s audience proceeds to interrupt and each of them take the ball of the story and run with it, in whatever direction he or she feels is the right one.

The result is that the story tangles in various threads and the reader has to concentrate to find the initial skein. “Perhaps only a single thread separates us from the truth,” Hussein suggests, “or perhaps an entire ream, but we will know for certain only when we look at the whole weave.” If you’re a Kurosawa fan you may enjoy untangling the different skeins, but there is a chance that you may think that it goes on for too long and that the suspense vanishes somewhere in the middle of all those skeins.

There are several beautiful descriptions of the Jemaa and the scenery around it “Here the ochre expanse of the sky is mirrored in the tabia bricks and facades … Beyond, hues of cinnabar, rust, crimson, vermillion settle on the snowcapped peaks of the High Atlas Mountains.” However, readers will be grateful for the glossary because the text is liberally sprinkled with Moroccan terminology.

In the end the book’s actual fable is about the nature of storytelling, where the only thing that the listener can do is trust in the story.

One could also say that it was a book about the conflicting nature of memory, or a book on love. But what finally happens and what the book is about is not important. It is the unfolding of the tale that is. After all, “Do we speak the truth, or do various, often incompatible versions of the truth speak us?” That is why so many characters are allowed to contribute their observations to Hussein’s story.

Roy-Bhattacharya plans this to be the first of a trilogy set in the Arab world and his sense of place and descriptions are to be commended. He weaves language as mystical as the Jemaa.

The Storyteller of Marrakesh by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya
Published by Tranquebar in India, 2011

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Storyteller of Marrakesh, The
by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya

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Written by Anjana Basu
Anjana Basu

Anjana Basu works as an advertising consultant in Calcutta. In 2003, Harper Collins India brought out her novel Curses In Ivory. In 2004, she was awarded a Hawthornden Fellowship in Scotland where she worked on her second novel, Black Tongue, published by Roli in 2007. In February 2010. her children's novel Chinku and the Wolfboy was brought out by Roli. She writes features for travel magazines and reviews for Indian newspapers.

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