♡ ♡ ♡ . 5 S T A R S
“Indeed We created man from dried clay of black smooth mud. And We created the Jinn before that from the smokeless flame of fire.” (Quran 15:26-27)
As a Muslim, lore for me has been rather different than the lore you might have grown up with. Of course there are no such things as vampires, werewolves, tooth-fairies, or poltergeists, but Jinn? Jinn are real. Some in Pakistan say they dwell at the tops of trees, some use them as a means to caution children to not play outside past sunset. Don’t pick up random things on the street – they might belong to the Jinn, and they’ll get mad if you steal from them, and they’ll never leave you alone. I can’t speak for much, but I can speak for Pakistan – there, Jinn are often the stuff of nightmares. They change their face, they latch onto you and make you do unthinkable things. Not unlike demons in exorcism movies, actually.
But then there are those that say that Jinn are just like men; they can be categorized plainly as good or bad. There are Jinn who are good Muslims, just like there are men who are good Muslims. They pray five times a day, they spend their lives in loyalty and devotion to Allah, and they live side-by-side to men. Hell, there might be one sitting right next to you while you read this, but he’s a good Jinn. He won’t bother you.
Sometimes I forget how diverse of a religion Islam is. From the 22 million Muslims living in China to the millions upon millions living in South Asia, from the Middle East to Africa to Europe and North America. Islam is followed by nearly 25% of the world’s population, scattered all over the globe. Religion, much like everything else, is saturated by culture – hence, much of the lore is saturated by the culture of the person reading it, the setting, the practices, the history. Like I said, Jinn in Pakistan are usually seen as nightmarish beings, but in other places, they’re seen as magical superior beings who have powers that men do not, while in other places, they’re seen as common entities that you just don’t happen to see – like the air around you.
The Djinn Falls in Love was a reminder of the diversity of Islam, and the Muslims that practice it. And, in some cases, the people who don’t practice Islam at all, yet they encounter Jinn anyway. This is the epitome of a diverse book; each and every story teaches you something different about the part of the world it is set in, something different about a culture that you might not have been familiar with. From futuristic dystopian Bangladesh to the outskirts of rural Pakistan to the rainy streets of New York City and even something set in outer space. From Jinn who are separated half-brothers, to business partners, to taxi drivers, to lovers, to best friends, to horrors who will possess your soul. The collection presents the Jinn in a vast, creative manner that will leave you itching to find out more about an entity that has the ability to manifest itself in any way that it chooses.
There’s a story in this collection for everyone. If you enjoy angsty paranormal romances, “Majnun” by Helene Wecker might appeal to you – the story of a young man, now an exorcist, who had a female Jinn for a lover. If you enjoy spiritual tales about brotherhood, “The Congregation” by Kamila Shamsie may make you weep. Fancy some fantasy with traditional Middle Eastern royalty and magic rings and portals? Check out “Hurrem and the Djinn” by Claire North. Space stories tinged with a shade of horror? “Duende 2077” by Jamal Mahjoub. There is something in this collection that will appeal to you, regardless of your genre preference or technical literature preferences.
But despite hosting stories from heavy-weights in the industry like Kamila Shamsie (who is perhaps the most prominent contemporary Pakistani writer of our time), Nnedi Okorafor (author of Binti), Helene Wecker (the critically acclaimed writer who penned The Golem and the Jinni), and Neil Gaiman (who is the master of fantasy and lore), the stories that really stand out are others’.
Perhaps my favorite short story of all-time (note, I said all-time, not just in this collection) was “Reap” by Sami Shah, involving a team at a base flying US drones near the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan. They’re preparing to bomb the region, waiting on orders, but spend their time surveilling the four or five houses in that region. And one night, they see something terrifying – a little girl, resident of one of these houses, is doing unimaginable things, inhuman things. I read this story a while ago, and I’m still reeling from its impact. It’s spine-chillingly horrifying, the stuff of nightmares, given the vivid imagery and the dense writing – a Jinn story in true Pakistani fashion. But more than that, it offers some of the most subtly wonderful political commentary I have ever read in any book, let alone a short story. About the senselessness of performing warfare, dropping bombs on rural areas while sitting behind a console, drinking coffee and joking around with your friends. How it might feel if a predator came after you just as you send a different sort of predator to someone else- a predator you don’t understand, can’t see, and can’t reach. It’s an incredible, incredible story that I would suggest everyone read, even if they read nothing else from the book at all.
Another favorite was “Bring Your Own Spoon” by Saad Z. Hossain, which is a futuristic dystopian story set in Bangladesh, where the city of Dhaka is divided into zones. Hanu lives in one of these zones, where food is scarce and poverty is rampant. One day, Hanu and a Jinn named Imbidor arrive at an agreement; they’ll establish their own restaurant for the people living in what they call The Fringe. Despite being a short story, “Bring Your Own Spoon” is nothing short of a masterpiece, with beautifully crafted characters, an incredibly developed dystopian world and a plot that you’ll keep up with as if you’re watching an especially enticing movie. It’s imaginative, it’s different, and it’s captivating.
But despite having some standouts, many of the stories fell flat for me – some that I felt were trying to do too much with too little, some where the lore didn’t seem as established as in others, and some that just didn’t appeal to me with their thematic elements. All-in-all, despite some cold stories, it’s a worthy addition to your bookshelf, and a book that anybody who advocates for diversity in literature needs to pick up. It is truly diverse, in the very sense of the word.