Received a copy of The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an IKEA Wardrobe by Romain Puértolas through the First Reads Giveaway program in exchange for an honest review
" 'All sufficiently advanced technology is indiscernible from magic.' At the time, the child has not understood. So the man had explained: 'What that means, quite simply, is that things which are banal for me, can seem magical to you; it all depends on the technological level of the society in which you grow up.' "
Ajatashatru Oghash Rathod steps foot in the historically-beautiful country of France and all he has to say to the Gypsy Taxi service driver is IKEA (in reality that's all he can understand between inaudible and indistinguishables). Getting his first taste of taxi service impropriety, Aja is taken on the tourist's roundabout way to his desired destination. Rather than going to the Ikea close by, he takes Aja to the Paris Sud Thiais location that is on the opposite end of the city. With €100 to his name and a €90 fare left in his balance there is only one thing left to do, he uses a counterfeit banknote with a retractable line and hands it to the driver unaware that he is giving him a taste of his own medicine. Exiting the cab he escapes without any further incident, or does he? When you look like Aja does in a place like Paris, with the unlimited connections attained by a Gypsy clan you are not that hard to find.
Aja is middle aged, tall, thin, ten gallon turban wearing, gnarled like a tree, moustachioed, pierced lip, with a visage that exhibits great character and a breadth of experience. Aja is a Fakir by trade and upholds his responsibility by living in poverty and denying himself of worldly possessions. But there is this one peculiarity...You see Aja is a master conjurer and has bamboozled his fellow villagers from Rajasthan into believing that he possesses magical powers. Aja has convinced his followers into believing that he is suffering from a rheumatism and needs a new bed if he is able to continue his mystical exhibitions. His poverty-stricken, yet hopeful "kickstarters" fund his trip to France so he can buy himself a bed of nails that he can only procure from an IKEA store. Stepping off the plain in the Charles de Gaulle Airport appearing like he is a wealthy Indian industrialist, but in reality the locals regard him as a stranger in a strange land. Aja has one clear focus, GO TO IKEA, by a bed for €100 and get back home. What happens is a European whirlwind where Aja finds himself trapped in a wardrobe and at one point escapes trouble byway of a Louis Vuitton trunk. His transportation methods vary as well, as he travels by way of freighter ship in Libya, hot air balloon from Barcelona, shipping truck from Paris, with an occasional stop in the local jail in Folkestone, England. If it weren't for bad luck Aja would have no luck at all. After wrongly-deceiving an angry gypsy named Gustave Palourde of the notorious Palourde clan, Aja finds himself on the run from a man that is intent on killing him very, very slowly. Despite Fakirs world-renowned impervious nature to pain Aja is running as if he were back home in Rajasthan on coals for his faithful followers.
"A couple lay decorously on a Bierkeland, their minds filled with visions of the delightful nights they would spend there together. Perhaps they would even make a child in that bed? Indeed, a sign written in French and English informed visitors that one baby in ten was conceived in an IKEA bed. Ajatashatru was pretty sure that the population of India had not been included in the statistic."
The book starts with a selfish, deceitful, transgressive Indian man who you hope through the actions during the course of the novel will turn into an honest, generous, and law-abiding man of the world. Throughout all of his misadventures Aja is continuously promising Buddha that if he survives he will change and live the life of a good man. Like a good God, Buddha doesn't make it easy for Aja and tests his mettle, resolve, and faith along the way. During his journey Aja suffers five incredible shocks to the emotional system that gradual alter his perspective and begin his transformation process. Through the direct feelings of compassion, shame, forgiveness, and love, Aja's rough exterior is slowly smoothed out and chipped away. On the surface this book is a lighthearted, humorous and fun read. At the heart of the novel is a man's search for meaning and a purpose driven life where generosity, honesty and faith become his motivations.
This is a fun read with plenty of humorous insights and exchanges. As the back of the book says it is a Voltaire-esque journey but ultimately not as violent or hilarious for my liking. The book started strong for the first 3/4 but lost momentum towards the end. There are also subtleties where the reader gains a knowledge of how many travelers experience racism and prejudice if they lack the necessary documentation or local linguistics. The topic of illegal aliens is only touched on briefly but the message and social commentary is clearly-stated and not over-indulgent for the reader. With all the silliness that can be chewed up and spit out there are definitely some hardships that may be tough to swallow but there are learning tools that the reader can savour. Recommend this book to anyone and everyone that enjoys a nonsensical, good-humour, and whimsical read with a little bit of perspective on the side.
"They spent ten days in Calais, helped to a great extent by Red Cross volunteers who gave them food to eat and a place to sleep. This was how the police knew the approximate number of illegal aliens waiting in the zone. The Red Cross served 250 meals? Then there must be at least 250 illegals in the area."