by Saad Z. Hossain
Review by Mel Jacob
The Unnamed Press Trade Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781944700065
Date: 28 November 2017 List Price $17.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Those who like black comedy will love Djinn City by Saad Hossain. Filled with one-liners and pithy observation, it is a treat to read, but also unsettling that a ten-year-old boy would have such views. Fortunately, the book shifts from character to character as the story unwinds.
Set in Bangladesh, the novel begins with a young boy, Indelbed, born as a cross between a Djinn mother and human father. He is burdened with the knowledge he killed his mother because of incompatibilities between a human embryo and djinn blood. His father blames him. Well-educated by his father, despite never having attended school, he is smart.
His father is an emissary between djinn and humans. Djinn do not like to interact with humans and use these agents to accomplish many things. Emissaries also are able to amass great wealth. Somehow, his father has angered Matteras, an especially powerful djinn.
Matteras believes in the separation of djinn and humans. His current aim is to cleanse the Bengal area by drowning the inhabitants. A number of djinns agree with him while a few do not. He is also determined to punish Indelbed's Khan Rahman family because of the boy and his father.
Most of the time Indelbed's father is in a drunken stupor, one day he is knocked into a coma courtesy of Matteras, leaving Indelbed unprotected. Taken by an uncle, the head of the Khan Rahman, Indelbed disappears. Meanwhile, his aunt and her son Rais try to find him.
Imprisoned by Matteras in a murder pit, Indelbed encounters another djinn who helps him survive but also causes him extreme pain. He transforms Indelbed into something new.
This not a story for the faint of heart and Hossain is not one for happy endings. It provides different worldviews. Here the djinn are not only capricious but also the enemies of humans. Among the sympathetic characters are Rais and his brilliant mother.
Hossain's debut novel Escape from Baghdad! provided an equally funny indictment of nation-building in Iraq.