The Djinn Falls in Love & Other Stories – Edited by Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin (Solaris 2017)
I love the variety and surprises that short story collections often bring. I was intrigued by this book which aims to showcase global storytelling and to showcase the djinn (alternatively jinn or genie) as an element of folklore with “immense contemporary” relevance.
The stories are written in a variety of styles. Classic fairy tales, fantasy, science fiction and ‘weird’ feature amongst others. Many of the writers bring contemporary issues into focus through a lens of magic.
I’ll highlight a few of the stories that stood out:
The Congregation by Kamila Shamsie – This has a traditional feel and is about a boy, fathered by a jinn, who wishes to feel whole again by being possessed by his jinn brother. There is a lovely line it where a character says “There is no evil here, only love. God save us from a world that can’t tell the difference.”
Hurrem and the Djinn by Claire North – Tells a tale of the Sultan’s favourite lady who is believed to be a witch. It’s about the suspicion and rumour that dogs women of influence and the hatred they face.
Glass Lights by J.Y Yang – This is a lovely story of Mena, a Muslim girl who was told by her grandfather that she is a djinn. Mena quietly helps others without expectations. It is a tale of everyday life, passing encounters with strangers and the mundanity and randomness of the working day.
A Tale of Ash in Seven Birds by Amal El-Mohtar – The immigrant experience is writ large in this tale. We are told that “Nations are great magicians; they pull borders out of hats like knots of silk. Here, says the wizard nation, here are the terms of a truce: be small, be drab, above all be grateful, and we will let you in.” This is a prose piece rather than a straightforward story.
Reap by Sami Shah – US based drone operatives spend long shifts watching and analysing a small village in Pakistan. Through heat signatures and movements they watch a supernatural horror unfold. Tense and very effective.
Message in a Bottle by K.J. Parker – Witty and mediaeval in style. Some of the dialogue is a bit too contemporary to fit in comfortably but an excellent story nevertheless.
Bring Your Own Spoon by Saad Z. Hossain – Great dystopian sci-fi about the poor and dispossessed. A Djinn, a cook and a smuggler set up a kitchen and shelter to provide for the poorest. Well written. The descriptions of the simple meals cooked made my mouth water.
Somewhere in America by Neil Gaiman – Taken from his novel American Gods. This is just excellent. Funny, explicit, moving and empathetic. It works as a standalone short story.
Overall an engaging, though provoking collection.