Thirteen travelers stranded in an Asian airport spin 13 fantastical tales to while away the long night.
In what is billed as a first novel but which readers are more likely to see as so many loosely knit stories, a snowstorm in Tokyo forces an international flight to put down at an airport somewhere in Asian flyover country. All but 13 of the passengers find lodging in a nearby city where a summit meeting has attracted armies of reporters and protesters, leaving bookings unusually tight. When the airport employees abandon the unbooked to spend a sleepless night in waiting-room chairs, the travelers huddle together and agree to the proposal of a Japanese salaryman to amuse each other with stories. By stupendous coincidence, everyone in the group has at the ready a slightly fabulous yarn for the telling. Such unity as there is to these tales comes from the multinational Dasgupta’s ability to insert in most of the fables some form of magic suitable for a 21st century already full of wireless conveniences and stupendous TV screens. In the first, a provincial tailor is unlucky enough to be landed with a visit from a carload of dissolute Saudi-ish aristocrats, whose princely leader admires the tailor’s work enough to order up an outfit so luxurious that it bankrupts its maker and turns out to be undeliverable. In one of the longer tales, an Indian techno-zillionaire with the rupees to buy fertility for his sterile Bollywood-star wife becomes the father of twins whom he separates at birth when he finds the male twin too physically grotesque to keep. The beautiful female twin, fecund in the extreme, unites under profoundly weird circumstances with her brother after he has become a bizarre TV star. In another story of child abandonment, an unwanted baby becomes a seamstress whose beautifully stitched bedcovers have miraculous powers, goes to work and falls disastrously in love in an S&M bordello in Warsaw. And, finally, a Bangladeshi seaman coughs up a bird that walks across Europe to find the seaman’s ladylove.
Pleasantly weird, but not electrifying.