Monday, May 10, 2021

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line - Deepa Anappara

Summary: Three friends venture into the most dangerous corners of a sprawling Indian city to find their missing classmate.

Down market lanes crammed with too many people, dogs, and rickshaws, past stalls that smell of cardamom and sizzling oil, below a smoggy sky that doesn’t let through a single blade of sunlight, and all the way at the end of the Purple metro line lies a jumble of tin-roofed homes where nine-year-old Jai lives with his family. From his doorway, he can spot the glittering lights of the city’s fancy high-rises, and though his mother works as a maid in one, to him they seem a thousand miles away.

Jai drools outside sweet shops, watches too many reality police shows, and considers himself to be smarter than his friends Pari (though she gets the best grades) and Faiz (though Faiz has an actual job). When a classmate goes missing, Jai decides to use the crime-solving skills he has picked up from TV to find him. He asks Pari and Faiz to be his assistants, and together they draw up lists of people to interview and places to visit.

But what begins as a game turns sinister as other children start disappearing from their neighborhood. Jai, Pari, and Faiz have to confront terrified parents, an indifferent police force, and rumors of soul-snatching djinns. As the disappearances edge ever closer to home, the lives of Jai and his friends will never be the same again.

Drawing on real incidents and a spate of disappearances in metropolitan India. (Summary and pic from

My Review: It is completely my fault that this book was not what I thought it was. I saw it at the library, and I had heard about it, and I didn’t really read the summary carefully before I just committed and grabbed it. At first, I thought it was just a book about djinns, and I do love books about djinns and such since I’m all about some magical realism, especially when it relates to cultural stories and cultural paranormal phenomenon. That is what I was expecting. That is not what this was.

I’m hoping that by the time this review goes live that the Covid situation in India will have lessened, or at least slowed. At the writing of this review, things are extremely tragic in India, with people dying without oxygen, very few in the population vaccinated, and the world scrambling to help them and help address Covid numbers that are record setting every day. This book is not about that, but is about child disappearances in India, especially among the lower classes, and this coupled with everything going on in India right now with Covid made it very difficult to not just be totally devastated about all that is going on there right now.

There were some really great things about this book. I loved reading the author’s note at the end and felt like she did a great job explaining why she wrote this book (and I’m so glad she did). This is obviously a topic that the world may not be super familiar with, and especially at this time when Covid is so in the forefront, I worry that these child disappearances will continue happening and will not get the focus they deserve. Anappara did an excellent job creating fun and funny child main characters, with lots of wit and a happy and resilient attitude. They were faced with such difficulty, both because of the child abductions of their friends and family that were happening, but also just their living circumstances. However, they were funny and good-natured and really made a very dark story more palatable and readable. I do believe there are a lot of children this way, and I think Anappara accomplished her goal of making these children innocent and fun and yet storied in their wisdom and unfortunate circumstances.

The book is well-written, and I enjoyed the Indian words interspersed with out (and was also grateful for the glossary). It made it feel like a more authentic experience and set the atmosphere. Anappara did a great job of incorporating Indian words and phrases that allowed the reader to be very much immersed in the culture, and yet didn’t detract from the story or the understanding of what was going on because of confusion or misunderstanding of the language.

The story in this book is really sad, and is one that encompasses a lot of things—caste systems, the rich verses poor, police corruption and brutality, child trafficking, poverty, unequal opportunities, cultural strife and genocide…it really is a book that takes on a lot of hard topics. However, Anappara does an excellent job of keeping all these issues straightforward and understandable, even though there are complex and nuanced.

To say that I liked this book doesn’t seem appropriate, given the topic and the timeliness of it (not just in India, either). However, I greatly appreciated reading about it, and was grateful that Anappara had created a world in which I could step into, see what India and the lower classes experiences are, and gain some insight. I also appreciated the resources she left at the end. I believe we can’t all make the world a better place if we aren’t aware of issues that are going on, even if these issues aren’t right in our faces all of the time. I was grateful for the wakeup call.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is language, child trafficking, and insinuation of violence. There is also police brutality.

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