06 July 2012

The storyteller of Marrakesh by Joydeep Roy-Bhattarcharya

Under a starlit sky
This is not the usual beginning-middle-end type of story. It is told by a traditional storyteller of Marrakesh, sitting in the town square, the Jemaa. With a changing audience every night, the storyteller takes up his narrative from a different point. Members of the audience often add to it, joining in with their own observations and anecdotes.
While I enjoyed almost everything about this book, I didn’t care much for the storyteller’s story as a piece of entertainment. I found it useful from an anthropological point of view and a great device to work in all kinds of things about the history, geography, family relationships and various other aspects of the culture of the region – but the two strangers themselves are pasteboard and rather annoying in some ways. They are tourists, a loving couple, the woman French and beautiful, and the man may or may not be an Indian - at one point I wondered whether he was actually a cameo appearance by the author himself. However, we learn very little about them and more about almost everything else the storyteller tells of – including his own family, and the story-telling tradition he has inherited from his father.
This book shows us different aspects of this multi-layered society and what I found most fascinating was the women we get a glimpse of. As children, the storyteller and his brothers are vaccinated by a woman doctor - the leader of a medical team visiting their remote village. On the square we see not just a beggar woman and a witch woman but housewives too. And yet, we are also witness to the public molestation of the beautiful stranger on the square

You can’t blame the men for what happened next. A woman like that isn’t worthy of respect. She was dancing like an animal in the dusty earth. She’d advanced into the middle of the circle by this time. Now she stopped a few times before some of the men as if challenging them. She was stoking their fire, taunting them to let themselves go.
What we learn from the storyteller is how difficult it is to arrive at a version of the truth because each person’s perception varies so much and depends not just on their different views – but also on the way in which they present these views.
What I enjoyed most about this book is the descriptions of the Jemaa which bring it alive with all its different characters, colourful wares, and powerful traditional music.