Jose A. Flores Velasco, consul general of Argentina
Jose A. Flores Velasco, consul general of Argentina

Books: The Extraordinary Voyage of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe by Romain Puértolas and From the Ruins of Empire – The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia by Pankaj Mishra

Review: Jose A. Flores Velasco, consul general of Argentina in Atlanta

This year I was fortunate to come across two books which I thoroughly enjoyed and I would find myself at odds choosing between one and the other, especially in the light of events that intensified throughout the course of this year. 

The Extraordinary Voyage of the Fakir Who Got Trapped in an Ikea Wardrobe by Romain Puértolas is a fine piece of French fiction. Bordering on tragedy, this light comedy takes us on an accidental journey that not only sheds light on the complex working of deportations inside the European Union but also into the dreams that weave the fabric of immigrants from a very diverse background flocking to the “beautiful countries.” I have tried my best to avoid spoilers, as it really is a good book.

The author is not afraid to play around with stereotypes and shows how prejudiced all human beings can be (and how that can sometimes be played to our advantage as well). The main character, of Indian origin, finds himself rounded up with African immigrants upon unintentionally entering the U.K. (trapped inside an Ikea closet). The immigration officer who speaks Rajasthani, just like our character does, makes clear from the beginning that no differential treatment will be offered, despite the common language and our character’s papers. So our Fakir is shuttled off along with this new “friends” on a journey that will have him hopping to five countries in an insanely short period of time and to situations which could easily merit this book being scripted into a movie.

I particularly enjoyed the contrast between a calloused world on the outside and the self-centered indulging character we meet at first who undergoes a lightning-fast course on being humane. We are made to reflect upon our initial impression of him as well as he is brought to rethink his outlook on others.

Good humor can sometimes be the key to opening us up to laugh at our complacent selves. The comic or light way in which the situations are portrayed do not downplay at the drama facing migrants and I think reading this book will humanize and personalize a somewhat anonymous situation. While I am not aware that there may yet be a translation into English, I think many of the puns would get lost so I encourage you to read it in the original if you should be able to. It’s a light book, but do not mistake it for a light read.

The other book which I have just completed reading is From the Ruins of Empire – The Revolt Against the West and the Remaking of Asia by Pankaj Mishra.

I am very partial to books that can bring a new perspective to any subject on which lots has been written. This book does a wonderful job of describing historic facts from an Asian perspective. It is not revisionist in nature, but retells history from the internal forces that shaped one of the most economically and socially dynamic regions on the planet today.

Coming from a Latin American country myself, many times local history is summed up as a response to factors outside our area of influence. As if there had not been a local Spirit of the Times that led down one path rather than other possible ones. Most of the books I had read on Asia had always looked at it from a colonial perspective, as if history had pretty much begun once a people had been subdued by an external enemy.

Needless to say that the colonization by European powers from the 1500s on ignited a string of events that would lead to many territories changing their political and social systems completely, but most books try to analyze the supposedly “stubbornness” of these to accept change or more “modern” forms of society.

Mr. Mishra’s book offers a tale of individuals who fed on the local perspective and world vision to create a new way of making nations regard themselves. It allows us to see the clash between traditionalists and modernizers at an internal level as opposed to outsiders versus insiders. It is quite interesting how racial ideas of superiority came to be when Europeans overcame odds that had previously seemed insurmountable.

While at times, the book does go into a bit more detail than I would have liked, it is very well referenced and has provided me with a new way of thinking about historical processes about which I had read great lengths. It also shows how relevant local perspective is when one country decides to get into the affairs of another.

Read Mr. Flores’ book review from 2013: Challenging Our Views on Race, Ethnicity

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...