“Indeed We created man from dried clay of black smooth mud. And We created the Jinn before that from the smokeless flame of fire”
Up until quite recently, I was only familiar with the word “genie” as a descriptor for supernatural beings that have a reputation for living in old lamps and granting wishes. The stories in this collection use either “djinn”, “jinn” or “genie” to represent these entities that are very different from the Robin Williams-voiced, cute, animated character seen in Disney’s Aladdin. So, what are these mysterious, misrepresented creatures? Here is what the website “islamreligion.com” says about them:
“The Jinn are beings created with free will, living on earth in a world parallel to mankind. The Arabic word Jinn is from the verb ‘Janna’ which means to hide or conceal. Thus, they are physically invisible from man as their description suggests.”
(Source: islamreligion.com. Link here.)
In The Djinn Falls in Love & Other Stories, editors Mahvesh Murad and Jared Shurin have compiled a wonderfully varied collection of 22 tales of “Djinn” from authors including Nnedi Okorafor, Sami Shah, Monica Byrne, Claire North, Kamila Shamsie, Kirsty Logan, K.J Parker, Saad Hossein, James Smythe and Neil Gaiman. It was nice to find a mixture of writers I knew as well as ones who were new to me; one of the great things about short story collections.
And what a collection this is. I haven’t enjoyed a short story collection as much as this in a long time. This is a wonderful book and a book full of wonders. Every tale is well told. It’s a cornucopia of enchanting tales that sheds light on the human condition as well as the supernatural Djinn. It was difficult to select a favorite so I’ll write a couple of lines about the stories that really stood out for me.
“The Congregation” by Kamila Shamsie – Setting off early for Morning Prayer, a young man encounters some unusual worshippers in his local mosque. One worshipper in particular catches his eye. The author has fun with perception and there is a real sense of loss and longing in this story.
“Majnun” by Helene Wecker – A beautiful tale of love and heartbreak between a djinn and an exorcist with a complicated past. This is a story about choices and all they entail.
“Black Powder” by Maria Dahvana Headley – To say too much would be to spoil it. This is a very original story about a “hunter” with connections to the 1001 Nights tale-teller “Scheherazade”. It also stars a kid, a pawnshop owner, and a priest. How they are all connected is entertaining to discover. One of my favorites, I’m keen to read more of Headley’s work.
“The Sand in the Glass is Right” by James Smythe – A cautionary tale that retells the old story of ‘be careful what you wish for’. Obsession, family, the past and the future, human frailty, and the meaning of words all play a part.
“Reap” by Sami Shah – A Pakistani family with possible ties to the Taliban is under surveillance by an American drone. The group of soldiers watching the monitors sees something incredible and tries to discover the truth.
“The Jinn Hunter’s Apprentice” by E.J. Swift – A space-set story of possession on a starship. The jinn hunter’s apprentice arrives to solve the mysterious events occurring on the ship. We also learn what jinn think of the red planet! Another tale I really enjoyed, another author’s work to explore.
“Message in a Bottle” by K.J. Parker – Faced with the necessity of opening a bottle that contains either salvation of destruction for your people, what would you do? This story asks how far we would be willing to go to discover the truth. And with the stakes so high, could we trust the answer given?
“Bring Your Own Spoon” by Saad Hossein – In a future full of “nanites, biotech, and radiation”, real food has become scarce and dangerous. A djinn with a taste for home-cooked meals helps a young cook to open a restaurant. But will there be any customers brave enough to sample the dishes offered?
In their introduction, the editors state that one of their goals was “to use the central theme to showcase global storytelling.” They have succeeded in my opinion, and I think this should be one of the main selling points for this collection. How refreshing to discover high-quality stories penned by such an international group of male and female storytellers between the covers of one volume. The Djinn Falls in Love & Other Stories comes very highly recommended.
[*This review is my honest opinion of this book. Thanks to Rebellion Publishing and NetGalley for providing a digital ARC.]