Thanks to the many book tokens received I’ve been better read than normal these past couple of months.

One novel in the pile that impressed me was “Tokyo Cancelled” by Rana Dasgupta. It’s from 2005, so am a bit behind the curve here. He has a more recent novel that I will now acquire.

The plot is paper-thin – a plane to Tokyo is forced by bad weather into a stopover at some unnamed airport, probably in Central Asia. Most of the passengers are accommodated in the nearby city but thirteen remain in the airport lounge. They pass the time by telling stories – one story per passenger.

The characters of the storytellers are not developed at all – each is almost completely anonymous. The stories are all-important.

The stories are written in the style of magic realism*. They are grounded in real-world locations but the stories are hyper-realistic, fantastic in content – something very surreal in the ingredients. The stories are well-written. Nice turns of language, as in “the mutant seed of force majeure was already sprouting up through the edifices of cherished Plans”.

The locations are global, and globalisation is definitely a recurring theme. The location for each of the stories:

1. Middle East          2. London    3. Delhi     4. Frankfurt / Turkey

5. New York City     6. Lagos     7. Detroit     8. Tokyo     9. Istanbul

10. Paris     11. Warsaw     12. Shenzhen     13. Buenos Aires

The stories are very allegorical. There’s a clue in the first story:

‘What do you say, scholars, to the tailor’s story?’ asked the king.
‘Sire, it is a fine story, constructed according to our traditions, and possessing all the thirteen levels of meaning prized in the greatest of our writings.’

I’m not suggesting that every story has thirteen meanings (though they may have) but they are definitely multi-layered and require intepretation beyond the obvious. Each story takes on some of the style of its location (“according to our traditions”) so there a west african style, a japanese style, a european style, etc. Also, starting with a Middle Eastern story is a nod in the direction of “One Thousand and One Nights / Arabian Nights”). Later it has more of a Grimm Brothers feel. The fact that it ends in Latin America could be a nod in the direction of Isabel Allende and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The fact that the tales are told by travellers  draws comparison with Chaucer and “The Canterbury Tales”. Incidentally, this is where Dasgupta was born. He lived the early part of his life in Cambridge; was educated in Oxford and the US, and now lives in Delhi.

This talk of globalisation puts me in the mood for some African(/Cameroon) music:

Bidjoi Sisters – Chantal

*Aside – I don’t agree that “fantasy” and “magic realism” are inter-changeable terms as some claim – magic realism has to be set in a credible, familiar location or setting; whereas fantasy is classic science fiction or dragonslayer style stories.