The art of storytelling

2011-12-14 00:00

AS the title suggests, the true subject of this book is storytelling itself. The plot (such as it is) concerns the disappearance of a young couple, foreigners to the exotic location, but the book focuses on the evocation of their story by Hassan, the story­teller. The art of storytelling, which is presented as an art, does not allow a simple encounter with plot.

The reader is introduced to the Jemaa, the central square on which performers, musicians and the ­storyteller earn their living. Through evocative descriptions of what lies before him, Hassan evokes the life of Marrakesh, its mosques and market places, its itinerant variety of tribal peoples. Through digressions and diversions, we learn about the culture of Morocco, its cities with their skilled artisans, the fertile rural valleys of dates and sheep, and the magnitude of the desert. Each of the listeners to Hassan’s story has their own opinion of the young man and woman, and their own ­version of what happened. It becomes apparent that storytelling is about ­exchange and community and about co-creation, and the slippery, unknowable nature of life and our experiences of it.

Hassan has an urgent personal reason for the telling and retelling of this particular story as his brother is implicated in the disappearance and imprisoned as a result. In an attempt to make meaning, the events are looked at from every possible angle and the philosophical implications are slowly distilled from the complex human interactions reflected on. While full of interesting descriptions and some profound insights, I found this book quite frustrating to read because of the continual digressions, but ultimately it is worth persevering, not for the solution to the plot which seems rather banal, but for the importance which the imagination attains within the story.

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