15 Mar / the extraordinary journey of the fakir who got trapped in an Ikea wardrobe. A novel. by Romain Puértolas, translated by Sam Taylor
Have you heard this one before?
Well, no, most probably not … because it’s got to be one of the most original, goofy debut novels ever. Already a massive, prize-winning bestseller in its native France, like its unlikely hero, the peripatetic book is also available in some three dozen additional countries. Now that it’s landed Stateside, clearly you need a copy, on paper or stuck in the ears; might I recommend the latter, as British actor Julian Rhind-Tutt’s mellifluous narration will make this whirlwind journey that much more memorable.
Ajatashatru Oghash Rathod (“pronounced A-jar-of-rat-stew-oh-gosh!“) is not exactly the holy man his village believes him to be. He’s arrived in France from his remote village of Kishanyogoor (“pronounced Quiche-and-yogurt“) via New Delhi, with travel funding culled rather ignominiously from his believers to buy a new bed of nails. He carries in his wallet a single €100 note, printed by his cousin Parthasarathy (“pronounced Parties-are-arty“), albeit only on one side. Over nine days, thanks to an unintended ride in an Ikea wardrobe, his odyssey will take him through France, Great Britain, Spain, Italy, Libya, and back to France. He’ll be chased by a gypsy, get deported with his new friend Assefa (“pronounced I-suffer“), write a novel in the dark with a dog as his companionable audience, get quickly used to luxury under the munificence of a movie star, and sign a fabulous first-book deal with six figures (in Euros, no less) presented to him in a posh suitcase. He also manages quite the personal transformation, falling madly in love and discovering the joys of giving instead of conning.
Mixed in with the guffaw-inducing adventures, you won’t be able to miss the timely, biting social commentary, especially regarding immigration, border crossings, and unfair laws: Romain Puértolas’ bio reveals prior to becoming a bestselling author, he was “most recently … a police inspector with the French border service.” Ridicule is hardly limited to legal systems, as everyone from arrogant sales clerks, socially-profilable terrorists, greedy taxi-drivers, exasperated baggage handlers, desperate-for-the-next-J.K. Rowling-publishers, and many others all get their moments of well-earned exposure.
Lest you worry this romp might prove too cynical, rest assured, laughter and love abound … what remains is indeed an ‘extraordinary journey’ – a 21st-century comic escapade of a fairy tale with quite the promised happy beginning.
Published: 2014 (France), 2015 (United States)