Harvill Secker £12.99

The Extraordinary Journey Of The Fakir Who Got Trapped In An Ikea Wardrobe By Romain Puertolas (Trs by Sam Taylor) - book review

 

Ajatashatru is 38, a fakir, and also a faker, mistakenly believed by everyone in his Rajasthan village to have magical powers; and now he has managed to persuade them to club together to raise enough money for him to fly to Paris to buy himself the latest top-of-the-range bed of nails from Ikea. It’s “real Swedish pine”, with 15,000 nails that have to be hammered in individually, of course.

Ajatashatru shows up with nothing more than a single, very obviously fake, €100 note. This is his first time in Ikea – a pilgrimage of sorts – and he so loves it there! But things begin to go wrong when the unfortunate Ajatashatru gets accidentally trapped in a wardrobe and shipped to Britain. Though looking on the bright side, at least this unlikely turn of events will keep him safe from the Parisian taxi driver who has sworn to kill him. On balance, his journey has not started awfully well.

From London (where he and some fellow stowaways are caught by a border patrol) he is despatched to Barcelona; from there (via an escape on a baggage carousel) he is flown in a large brown Louis Vuitton trunk belonging to the glamorous French movie star Sophie Morceau (sic) to Venice; and thence there’s a hot-air balloon to Tripoli, and finally back to Paris to Marie, the woman he fell in love with back in Ikea the previous week. Resettled in Paris, now he can complete the novel he’d started scrawling on his shirt while locked in the hold of an airplane, with the encouragement of a dog who was trapped in there with him. And he hopes never to have to deal with border guards again. (There is much mockery of the logic of the border guard, a job Puertolas himself used to do.)

Through the stories of such people as the Sudanese friend he makes on his way, who just wants a chance trying his luck at life in one of the “good countries”, the regularly mispronounced Ajatashatru has discovered, quite by accident, what it is like to be one of the illegal immigrants, “the true adventurers of the 21st century” – though in truth, he had no intention of being any such thing.

His sympathies are awakened and he discovers the delights of generosity – in short, he learns from the lives of others, and his own life is changed by the experience. This absurd tall tale is a curiously naïve and intermittently amusing fable about the arbitrariness of fate, the good fortune that blesses some men but passes over others. Insubstantial it may be, sentimental and altogether shameless in its contrivance, but it does have some charm.

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