This review can be summed up in a couple of sentences: What a triumph! Do yourself a favour and buy the book. However, I would like to elaborate on this and tell you exactly why Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara is worth your money and time.
Deepa Anappara’s debut novel, longlisted for the Women Prize for Fiction, is a part crime/part coming-of-age tale and it is told through the eyes of nine-years-old Jai who lives in the slums of an unnamed Indian city. Jai is a wanna-be detective who has grown up with crime shows on TV. In many ways Jai is a child like any other; he goes to school; he hangs out with his friends and he tries to stay out of trouble. However, he is also a child that lives in poverty and grows up in the slums, and this is one of the main themes discussed throughout the book. The main action of the story revolves around a number of children’s disappearances that occur in Jai’s slum and, naturally, Jai declares himself to be the leading detective of the cases. Whilst he tries to solve the cases Jai portrays a vivid picture of his life, the social structures and the state of the slum that is his home. Not surprisingly his depictions are depressing; there is poverty, there is hunger and there is a division between the classes that seems insurmountable. However, told through the eyes of a child there is also a lot of humour that balances out the depressing depiction that is spread throughout the story. I do not want to spoil the ending of the story but I do want to say to you, reader, ‘Brace yourself for an emotional rollercoaster!’.
There are many books out there that depict social divisions, misogyny, child abuse, you name it, but Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is special in its ability to make you laugh and make you wishful despite all the ugliness that we encounter through Jai’s narrative. There are smells that make you wish you were there with Jai drinking tea or eating his mum’s cooking, there is laughter from his neighbours who have hope and, there are children with dreams who are capable of achieving them. It is this balance between the reality slap and the hope for a better future that makes the book magical. The choice of a very young narrator is also brilliant; his child naivety and confidence provide a relief to the gruesome nature of the crimes and make us see the world again through the hopeful eyes of a child. Deepa Anappara has written a serious book. It is a book that reflects reality, as children in India disappear by the hundreds on daily basis. It is a wake-up call to all of us who think that this is just a story; no, it is real life happening every day. In addition to this, she also explores misogyny in Indian society and the unwritten social rules that govern the role of women. These are tough topics to discuss but they need to be talked about and although they are hard to read, it is vital that we do so, for only then can change really happen.
To sum up: Do yourself a favour and buy the book. It will make you laugh; it will make you cry and most importantly it will make you think. You will root for Jai and you will hope he solves the crimes. You will stand with the poor people of the slum against the rich oppressors who live just across the wall. You will see life anew with all its beauty and ugliness, and this is what good literature is all about.
Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is out now, published by Chatto & Windus