Review -The Storyteller of Marrakesh by Joydeep Roy Bhattacharya.

“A philosopher realized,” as Hassan, the protagonist narrates “the truth is precisely that which is transformed the instant it is revealed, becoming thereby the only one of many possible opinions, open to debate, disagreement controversy, but also, inevitable, to mystification” Truth especially in the hands of a master story teller Hassan who displays his skill with words at the famed Jemaa el Fna acquirs many forms weaving an intriguing tale of fraternal love, imagination, intrigue, suspense, philosophy, and an extended debate on truth and its existence.
Hassan is a storyteller based in Marrakesh who gather a crowd every year at the famed Jemaa el Fna to narrate the same story over and again, the love story and the mysterious disappearance of one or both the lovers or maybe neither. The story is woven through the narration of multiple audience members ranging from acrobats to musicians, fortunetellers who were all witness to the arrival of the strangers. In a multiple strand narrative that threads together events of the night of the disappearance no detail, no observation is considered to be of little value. From the unusual forked lightning to the ring around the moon to the various signs around the marketplace, every narrator’s version of the events that happened that day are combined with a heady mix of romance, intrigue and truth in its various clothes. As the moon rises higher, so does the passion of the eclectic mix of Moroccan society weaving more and more threads of truth into the turn of events leading to a story that is left to the reader to untangle or maybe not.
Bhattacharya has incredible skills as a storyteller and it is evident in the rich narrative of the book. Efficiently combining the dying art of the “Storytellers of Marrakesh” into a philosophical fable on truth is not for the lesser talented. The richness of the land, combined with the myths and fables it carries in its heart is expertly exploited by the author. Hassan’s story is more about his own survival and the survival of his art which relies heavily on the listeners to contribute by way of imagination, and suspension of reality, while making sure the storyteller is in touch with real life enough to weave his tale. There are parts when the thread becomes too entangled to read the truth clearly, but perhaps that was the idea. Storytelling is as much about creating mythologies from reality as it is about making the listener think and feel that the stories are innocent fiction. “Storytelling is an art that supersedes morality; it is an act of will.”
With the skill of a miniaturist painter, Bhattacharya manages to evoke both the rich tapestry of imagination of the storytellers rooted in the rich, varied and colorful surroundings of Marrakesh. The place plays as big a role to root the varied versions of truth as it plays in anchoring the characters that weave into it their stories and their imaginative word plays.

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