Title: The Storyteller of Marrakesh
Author: Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya
Release Date: January 31, 2011
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Co.
Genre: Literary Fiction, Multicultural Fiction
Rating: 3 out of 5
Hassan, a storyteller working in Marrakesh’s famous Jemaa el Fna, tells his listeners about two foreigners who mysteriously disappeared from the Jemaa. But as he is telling his story, others jump in with contradicting information, and the entire group ends up working together in order to tell the story of these strange foreigners and tries to deduce what actually happened to them.
The Storyteller of Marrakesh uses the art of storytelling as a theme through the novel, as well as a mechanism to deliver the story. As different people tell their version of the story, the reader understands how personal prejudices and biases can alter perception. Additionally, it is difficult to tell if someone has an agenda when telling the story – is someone trying to cast blame onto a particular person, or off themselves? It’s an interesting dynamic, with so many people telling this story, and it’s fascinating in some ways to see the juxtaposition of the stories. Bhattacharya does a wonderful job with both his reliable and unreliable narrators.
However, this technique also has a downside: the story has quite a bit of meandering. When different people play the role of the storyteller, they don’t just tell their version and then give the floor back to Hassan. Instead they talk about dreams, portents, their histories, all kinds of randomness that doesn’t really apply to the story at hand. As a result, while the reader gets a great feel for the art of Middle Eastern storytelling, the novel itself drags and is very slow in parts.
The novel also has an interesting theme in the nature of truth. Each person tells their own truth, what they think they saw happen to the foreigners. However, these truths conflict wildly. How can they all be genuine? Roy-Bhattacharya delivers an eloquent tale about how truth is actually more difficult to find than it seems on the surface. As Hassan delves into these various narratives, he has to search for the actual truth, because it seems that truth is relative.
The Storyteller of Marrakesh was an interesting novel, but it left me wanting in terms of its execution. I really liked the concept and the themes of the book, but it wandered so much that I considered abandoning it more than once. If you’re interested in a literary novel about storytelling or have a fascination with unreliable narrators, then definitely pick up this book, but otherwise it may not capture your attention.