Hassan is the storyteller of Jemaa el-Fnaa square in Marrakech. The son of an equally known storyteller, every evening he is in the square, telling tales that re best adapted to that day’s audience and mood. Tonight, he will talk about the disappearance of two foreigners. Or one of them. Or none. It’s not very clear. The book evolves during that one evening, with flashbacks going to various episodes of Hassan’s life or his listeners’ lives.
Because this is a story told by a storyteller and his listeners. It’s a story about a disappearance and about the truth, about what is real and what isn’t. About perceived memory, biased opinions and both crowd and personal psychology.
What is life, after all, but a passing fancy?
The moon, the cat, the poet, this circle of listeners – we all stand on the same page. Between the lip and the talisman, the throat and the voice, the heart and the hope, something is always trembling, something is always living and dying. Is it hope? Is it madness? Is it the sea?
It is love.
Look: there it goes, soundless, tremulous, a few timid glances, a fugitive gesture, a poem about kif, an evening’s worth of delirium, and then, nothing.
This was my favourite quote from the book. The description continues, for practically the whole chapter. And that’s mainly the problem with this book, which I really did not like. Strange, because it could have been the kind of book I could have liked, with the right kind of setting and a mystery. But no, not at all: incredibly, I nearly put it down when I was three quarters gone, but then I decided to wait and see if it redeemed itself at the end. It didn’t. Actually, I didn’t quite get the ending, which I had to read twice because I thought I was distracted the first time and had missed something. I hadn’t. Long, pointless chapters; long, complicated sentences; long infinite descriptions; too much philosophy; too much haze. Also, I don’t agree with the dialogues being camouflaged in the narration and description. Cryptical and confusing.
The one thing I did like was the description of the square. That I visited a few years back but obviously didn’t appreciate enough – now I really want to go back and see what I didn’t see then!