Saturday, November 15, 2014


The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe strives, as the title suggests, to be moderately epic in scope. In the space of 300 tightly written pages, it does just that. The book takes us on a romp that begins in a village in India, passes through an Ikea store on the outskirts of Paris, and then launches us on a journey that is alternatingly spectacular, improbable, delightful, edifying and more than a little bit slapstick.

The protagonist of the story is Aatashatru Ogash Ragod, an Indian fakir on a pilgrimage to buy a new bed of nails at Ikea, armed with a borrowed suit, a fake 100-euro note (printed on one side only) and a round-trip plane ticket financed by the village that has adopted him as their resident faker. Relying on his mastery of the arts of deception and diversion, his intent is simply to complete his purchase and return home. He gets more than a little waylaid along the way.

The story begins with Ajatashatru finding love in the most unlikely of places (the line for Swedish meatballs in the Ikea store). Committed to his mission, he lets love leave through the front door, before unexpectedly finding himself leaving through the loading dock, trapped in the eponymous wardrobe.

In writing The Extraordinary Journey…, Romain Puertolas has combined a penchant for vaudevillian slapstick worthy of a Pink Panther movie with a biting sense of social injustice. Softened by humour, Puertolas nonetheless offers an insightful commentary on the injustices and ineptitude exercised by countries fending their borders from unwanted immigration, and the corruption and callousness of many of those stationed at sentry boxes to guard against such incursions. The book highlights the dangers faced by those seeking a better life in the 'good countries'; often at the mercy of indifferent traffickers, subjected to inhumane conditions and travelling in perilous transports. While Puertolas acknowledges the cruelty that can exist in the world, he also reminds us of the good in humankind: of the importance and value to be found in the kindness of strangers, the rewards of helping others and the redemptive power of love.

I enjoyed The Extraordinary Journey… a great deal. While it is an easy read, it is also a delightful one. Puertolas' writing style is highly visual, and I am sure that even now the book is being optioned into a movie. Suspend your disbelief and embrace the improbability that life so often offers, and this is a book that you will find rewardingly worth the time. The Extraordinary Journey… is a delightful reminder of the importance of finding love, meaning, friendship and fulfillment.

Mark Mullaly is an avid reader, sometimes writer, enthusiastic motorcyclist and lover of wine (and endeavours to engage in only one of these pursuits at any given time).

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