The Storyteller of Marrakesh by Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya
Hassan, a Berber from the mountains, is the latest in his family of a long line of storytellers. For a thousand years, storytellers have been found in the souks (market places), passing down oral histories, telling stories of kings, love, and folk tales.
His story tonight is one that is as much myth as truth. Some years back, a foreign couple visited the market. The woman was beautiful and the man very attentive, and they made an impression on all who encountered them. And then they disappeared. What happened?
Several of Hassan’s listeners were there that night. Each contributed his experience with the couple, the waiter who served them dinner, a jeweler who sold her a necklace, the porter at the train station, and a palm reader. The tales they told, rather than solve their disappearance, added to the mystery. Hassan continues to seek out witnesses to that now mythical evening; he has an ulterior motive.
The author does a fabulous job of describing life in Marrakesh; you can see the old city square where he holds court, the tall minarets, the relentless vendors, the pounding of drummers, the ethereal music. His depiction of his youth, being lost in a sand storm is particularly vivid. Were those mirages he saw, or were they real?
To me, it was pure magical realism. Hassan paused once in his story to look at the stars in the sky. When he looked back at the listeners, he saw stars in each of their eyes. At times you wonder if this event actually happened, or if the entire affair was imagined. Did Hassan create the whole scenario and in re-telling, has it grown to have a life of its own? Again, you’ll see, he has an ulterior motive.
I was reminded of Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel García Marquez, which started with the report of a death, the details of which are explained by several different people. It’s as if there is a point, and a dozen very different paths to reach it.
Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya is Indian and living in New York. This is the first of three novels to be set in the Islamic world. I certainly look forward to the next one.