cover image The Storyteller of Marrakesh

The Storyteller of Marrakesh

Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya, Norton, $23.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-393-07058-3

The disappearance of a pair of tourists from Marrakesh's famous Jemaa el Fna is at the heart of Roy-Bhattacharya's misguided American debut, the first volume in a projected series. Hassan, a storyteller who makes his living on the square, begins his tale of the missing tourists, but as his version clashes with his gathered listeners' memories, they take over the narrative. The result is a muddle of contradicting details, minor characters relating portentous dreams, long digressions into largely unnecessary backstories, and swaths of overripe prose from which it emerges that Hassan's brother is in prison because of the disappearance, and that while Hassan believes in his brother's innocence, others think Hassan's tales are just an attempt to weave "a mythology around a crime" that itself remains vague. These heavily underlined questions about the nature of truth unfortunately end up being little more than posturing: in the end, one authoritative account trumps all others. The most surprising thing about this literary mystery set in the medina of Marrakesh is how dull it manages to be. (Jan.)