The story teller of Marrakesh is about a professional storyteller who, once a year, devotes his evening to retelling the story of a night when mysterious events led to the imprisonment of his brother. (This is not a spoiler - you are told this early on).
This is a highly enigmatic, original and cleverly constructed novel. The narrative thread jumps around in such fits and starts it can be frustrating. But the different viewpoints are essential to understanding what is really going on. I hesitate to speak against other reviewers but, having read the negative reviews by Lost John and AR bobsafish their reviews contain comments from which it can be deduced that they did not understand the book. Sorry I won't say more: I don't want to spoil the fun. Read it, keep your wits about you, and delight in the mischievous interplay between truth and fiction.
The story takes place in the central square in Marrakech (Jemaa el Fna) and makes much of its atmosphere, often ascribing to it properties of living beings or Gods. At times I thought this was overdone but, having once spent a week in Marrakesh during which I was irresistibly drawn back to the square every day, I can testify to its powerful atmosphere.
The novel gives detailed insight into Moroccan culture and must have been thoroughly researched as the author has never lived in Morocco. There is a useful glossary at the back (which I failed to notice until I had finished the book).
PS If anyone does want a spoiler, drop me a private line.
A wonderful and very unusual book as the author, Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya, has managed to bring storytelling to the modern age without losing any of the mystery of it....
The story is told by the main character, Hassan, the storyteller of Marrakech, but others seem to have seen different things, tell their stories, are of different opinions and argue their points of view, but things keep continue to happen....
It is also the story of family bonds and traditions, misunderstandings, with the truth being somewhere in between or did we all imagine it?
Setting a story in the "Place Jemaa el Fna", the well known square in Marrakesh where the world seems to meet in a whirl of food stalls, beggars, snake charmers and, like the main character in this book, traditional story tellers, is an interesting idea for a book. Though, in some ways, this book isn't a straightforward read - as the story of a mysterious couple who disappear unfolds through Hassan's story telling, we switch between different characters, each of whom have their own version of events and description of the character to give, I still enjoyed it. The idea of shared memories worked for me and I found the premise of each person having a different viewpoint and recollection interesting. Perhaps the strongest character is the square itself in some ways which I think, having been there myself some time ago, the author manages to evoke perfectly.
All that said, this book won't appeal to everyone - there's a mystery of sorts, but no quick solutions or indeed much action. This isn't a quick paced book by any means and there are times when it's quite hard work trying to step into another culture through the pages of the book and some of the characters are more convincing and interesting than others. For me, though I quite enjoyed the fact that this book was a little bit different from the norm and it was an intriguing, though not thrilling read which was well written and interesting. I would recommend it, particularly if you have been to Morocco or are interested in finding out about its culture or ready to spend a few hours feeling like you are in a square in Northern Africa waiting for a tale to unfold. This book worked for me.
I wouldn't normally review a book I hadn't finished, but this was a book sent to me on the Vine programme and I feel obliged.
The reason I couldn't get into it is that it seemed not to be moving at all. Every chapter a new character popped into view; all of them spoke of the mysterious couple around whom, apparently, the story centres -- but never did we get beyond that secretive hinting at some story to come. I didn't care about all these characters. I wanted to hear about the couple, and what became of them. Finally, I lost patience and closed the book.
For anyone who has traveled to Morocco and experienced Jemaa Al Fnaa the Storyteller of Marraech is quite an interesting proposition. Hassan, a storyteller in the Jemaa tells the story of a disappearance of a western couple some years ago. Though this isn't quite giving the narrative devices full respect in that description. He draws people around him who tell their version of the disappearance and this layering effect of others narratives is a confusing way of delivering the story and takes time to get used to - quite like the Jemaa itself. The narrative develops and eventually we are told the story of the couple, their disappearance and the legacy of that turn of events. Or so it seems on the surface.....
Hassan, our lead storyteller in this novel, declares very early on that he does not always tell the truth. Literary fiction is littered with examples of unreliable main characters and whilst Hassan may or may not be telling the truth, whole story or evading it you are never quite sure. However, somewhere in here is the truth of the story - teasing that out might be a bit difficult though as other narratives from other individuals are equally unreliable. So you are left with a story, with multiple viewpoints, that may or may not be truthfully told. This can be quite frustrating for some readers. It also seems, from my point of view, a lot of effort about not very much. I am sorry but the tale is well told (if you can keep with the literary devices used) but it doesn't really have a strong centre-piece.
This book will divide people. Some will love its approach, narrative and use of literary devices to layer a story that is rich and makes you feel like you are in Marrakech. Others will tire of its multiple viewpoints, start-stop narrative, diversions and less than reliable protagonists. I am somewhere in between. I enjoyed the book, it reminded me of my visit to Marrakech very much and also of the Jemaa and its narrative structure really does relay that experience to the reader. However, as I have already alluded to, I didn't quite feel there was enough meat in the central story to warrant everyone caring about the disappearance of two western tourists. I just didn't feel that it quite stood up to that scrutiny. I also didn't really feel that some characters could possibly feel the way they did after such a short time (you will have to read the book to understand that as I am trying to avoid spoilers). Its a very well written book, one that brings back memories and is to be admired for its style. It just didn't quite work for me as I hoped it would.
A simple tale of an itinerant storyteller, his family, their life and loves. Or is it?
I was put off initially by the lack of speech quotes and expected to find it difficult to follow the thread of the book, and the narrative style takes some getting used to, and I was busy. So it went to the bottom of the pile "to be read later." My mistake!
Once properly started, I was drawn deep into the story by the superbly detailed and vividly coloured imagery growing in my mind from the exquisite word-pictures. And I soon realised that the carefully enhanced style reinforces the mood and smoothes the gentle flow of the story, while seamlessly blending dialogue with reminiscence with action with dreams with wishes with experience with philosophy; all making a beautiful potpourri to lose oneself in.
I can see this book as a winter evening escape, a lazy Sunday afternoon dream, or a holiday read in the plane, on the beach or in the ski-chalet. It might be even better if one closes ones eyes and allows the words to wash through. Perhaps it should be an audio-book to allow the vivid pictures conjured in the mind to be unobstructed by mere print on a page. Don't read it on the Tube or Bus, because you'll miss your stop.
Halfway through the book the author reveals his own hand when the father tells his son:
"First, always remember that either a story carries love and mystery, or it carries nothing. Second, outside of the broad themes determined by the story sticks, the trick is to make up everything out of whole cloth. Third, a story must not have a clean resolution. That way you will keep your audience coming back for more. Finally - and this is the most important thing - our craft demands discipline and hard work; a fertile imagination is not enough."
This is good advice for any author, and Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya follows it well with all the care he has invested in this work. And as a bonus, there is a nice, simple philosophy running through the book, buried under the main theme being illuminated by the immediate `snapshot' stories, and it leaves one feeling more at ease with the world and more prepared to find the good in other people.
Yes, you may have gathered I really liked this one after my poor first impression.
The central story in The Storyteller of Marrakesh is of a European couple who appear in Marrakesh one day, clearly much in love. The couple make a few contacts with the locals, disregard warnings not to stray into the shadows around the town square at night, and disappear. On no evidence whatsoever, the young woman at least is widely believed to have been murdered. As we slowly discover such details of the mystery as are available, many subsidiary stories are related, some with little or no connection to the central story. There is also an embracing story; that of the storyteller himself, by name Hassan.
Hassan, the eldest of three brothers, inherited the role of professional storyteller from his father, following the death in childbirth of his, Hassan's, young and beautiful wife. Curiously, it was the father-in-law, not the husband, who was so saddened by her death that he lost the will to continue storytelling. Also curious is that we are told little about Hassan's wife and marriage beyond the bare facts of her beauty and death, and of the occasion when, on hearing that the girl with whom his forthcoming marriage had been arranged was walking on a nearby road, he flew around on his bicycle to take a supposedly casual look at her. Both were very young.
Other potentially interesting stories too are quickly passed over; such as that of Nabil, who "lost his eyesight while cleaning his grandfather's ancient rifle" and who "lives in isolation with his French born wife, whom he met in Marrakesh, and who has since taken the veil." Thereby, it would seem, hangs a much lengthier tale, and it is frustrating to be told no more. Meanwhile, the story of the European couple comes and goes, such scant information as we have about them repeatedly being disputed, called into question. Our patience wears thin. "If you want quick entertainment", says Hassan, "go to the nearest movie theatre and enjoy the show." We are sorely tempted.
All the while, author Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya develops, through Hassan, a philosophical theme on the relationship of truth to storytelling. "What matters in the end is truth", he declares, but shortly follows with "the truth of my story is immaterial". He means immaterial in strictly factual terms, but clings to the necessity of "the truth of life, of the breathing of air, the breasting of waves, the movement of wind on dunes and surf......the simple truths that bind us together as human beings."
If we are sufficiently interested in storytelling to have picked up this book, we are likely to agree with that, and to appreciate the periodic returns to the theme.
Towards the end, Hassan's youngest brother, Mustafa, is imprisoned for the `murder', to which he has freely `confessed'. Hassan visits him in prison and listens at length to his tale, though it is impossible for Hassan or ourselves to be anything but highly sceptical. "Make my story into a fable, Hassan", pleads Mustafa, "Make one up....if you choose not to believe me."
If you are interested in the philosophy of storytelling, this book may be for you. If you just like a rattling good yarn, probably not.
I loved the sound of this book when I read the blurb, it sounded fascinating and magical. However, i can't seem to get past the first quarter of the book, which is unusual for me. I can't really pinpoint why, but I do think that the 'voice' of the book doesn't seem to do much for me. I'll pick this up again in a few months and see if anything has changed, but for me, right now, this book is doing nothing.
In theory this was just the sort of book I should enjoy, a weaving, textured telling of stories, multiple views of the same incident, many voices, rich language. But in the end, I got surfeited, exhausted, distracted.
The 'plot' concerns the mysterious disappearance of two intriguing young Westerners, and the main, professional story-teller, who has a personal agenda in here, is trying to solve this mystery.
There's a lot which is enchanting in the book. However, from smiling in delight as each new storyteller adds their layer to plot and picture, I began to move towards boredom, frustration, irritation and a desire to reach the end.
I'm afraid I picked up and put down the book too many times, over too long a period of time, feeling that in the end it fell between stools of short stories which could be dipped into, like the Arabian Nights, but did not necessarily need to be read one after another, and a novel with beginning middle and end. Instead, its hold on me was short story length, but it failed to get me to connect each story at a time, and weave them into a narrative whole. I've picked the book up and put it down more times than I care to list, each time with enjoyment, but each time getting stuck around a third of the way through.
I didn't hate it, I didn't love it, it really was okay for as long as it lasted, but there wasn't anything emotionally engaging enough to make me stay the course. In the end, I left the charmed circle around the storyteller, and found other stories, by other writers, which held my attention more
There is an old adage that writers should always write about what they know, after a while this can lead a writer to muse on the art of writing itself - something they clearly end with some knowledge. This usually leads a writer to write about writing. "The Storyteller Of Marrakesh" takes an interesting sideways look at this conceit. Here there is no mention of the written art, this a story about storytelling looking at the root of the art, focusing on the telling of the tale itself.
The story centres on the disappearence of a couple visiting Marrakesh and the mysterious circumstances surround this. It's a simple story woven out through the pages with the additional mystery of the fact that the narrator, the storyteller Hassan, has a brother, Mustafa, who has been imprisoned accused of killing the couple. The telling of the events that took place on the night of the disapperence makes up the bulk of the story.
These events prove to be an enteraining read. The storyteller meets in the city square to recount his tale to his audience and his telling of the tale is embelished by those gathered to listen providing their own accounts of the significant moments in the tale. Through this the writer, Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya, manages to conjure up a strange and contracditory story centering on the confusion of witness testomonies. He succeeds in brining the voices of the different characters, and at times their lives, vividly to life. Painting a rich canvass on which to hang his elaborate tale. Here the book captivates and draws its reader into the chaos of a night no one character can fully seem to explain.
Sandwiched between this tale are the musings of Hassan, the storyteller, who begins and concludes the story with musings on the art of tale telling. It is in the opening and closing of the novel where the book manages to reveal some serious flaws. Hassan's musings on the art of the tale seem somewhat stilted and do not engage the reader anywhere near as effectively as the central portion of the book. Hassan comes across as a rather distant and unegaging central character, over obsessed with the art of his work. At time throughout the rest of the book Hassan comes across as both pompous and preceious about his art. The opening moments, in particular, dim the appeal of the story and may provide some with a significant barrier to entering into the heart of a well told tale. The conclusion also fails to satisfy as it is both overly sentimental and rather too easily concluded.
There is a good story sandwiched in here but its opening is stodgy and its conclusion deeply unsatisfying. When it sticks to storytelling it engages well but when it wanders into the writer's whimsy on the art itself it fails to engage or satisfy. A tale half well told.