Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line attracted my attention initially thanks to the cover. That big eye seemed to follow me around everywhere I went and after a season of blue/green covers, the bright yellow stood out a mile on the bookshop bookshelf. However I made an early assumption that it was nasty crime fiction, and therefore, not for me…until it was longlisted for the Women’s Prize and I looked a little closer. There was a mysterious crime – disappearing child in the Indian slums – but it also had a child narrator to take the sting out of the nastiness. And this is why, in the end, love them or hate them, I appreciate literary awards – they make me pick up a book I may have otherwise ignored or pre-judged as not of interest to me.
Discovering hidden gems is the best thing about a literary longlist.
I tend to have fairly firm opinions about which books should make certain lists or not, so I will either be delighted or devastated when the lists are announced. Recently, I was so disappointed that The Yield did not win this year’s Stella Prize, that I’m not sure I will be able to make myself read the chosen winner – ever. Even when The Yield finally got the nod for the 2020 NSW Premier’s Award plus the People’s Choice Award, the sting from the Stella still stayed with me.
But then, a few years ago, one of the Stella shortlisted book was The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by little known Iranian/Australian author, Shokoofeh Azar. I may never have come across this stunning story, if not for the Stella, except that now it has also been shortlisted for the 2020 International Booker Prize. It deserves all the attention it gets and if award nominations are what it takes to get it out there, then so be it.
It may not be a high-minded, literary, five-star read, (although in both these cases they were five stars for me) but an amazing four-star reading experience is not to be sneezed at. Considering I only rate a handful of books five stars every year, four is still a damned good book!
I really only star rate books to satisfy the goodreads criteria for reviewing. I find it a completely flawed system. The number of times I want to/need to adjust my star rating months later is ridiculous. A few times I realise a book is staying with me for far longer than I had anticipated. It keeps talking to me, whispering in my ear to reread it one day. Those books will get bumped up to five stars. But more often than not, my initial four star love wanes into a warm memory that drops down to a comfortable, middle-of-the-road three stars.
Both The Yield and Greengage got bumped up to five stars. Djinn Patrol is currently sitting very happily in the four zone. I may not be feeling the itch to reread it, but I am very keen to read anything else that Deepa Anappara might write in the future. She brought the sounds, smells and tastes of India to life. Living in a basti might seem unbearably grim and difficult to outsiders, but from our young narrators point of view, this is the only world he knows. This is where his family lives and works. Jai is cared for by neighbours and goes to school nearby. There are all sorts of underlying caste/class issues that play out on the streets and in the classroom, but that’s all Jai knows. He accepts his life and his lot, yet hopes that one day, rather then becoming one of the kids picking through the rubbish heaps, they might be able to afford to live in the rich apartments overlooking their slum.
That is, until some of the local kids start to go missing, one at a time.
Jai and his two friends decide to solve the mystery. They start to question the world they live in and wonder why these awful things have to happen.
The anger at corrupt police, racial stereotyping and the constant fear of violence and poverty are seen through a child’s eyes. Jai’s humour and innocence softens the blows for the reader, until it comes too close to home for anyone’s comfort.
Anappara has written an engaging, tense and vivid story that will stay with me for a long time. Please don’t dismiss this book. It’s a beauty and well worth your time.
- Debut writer
- Longlisted for Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020
- Winner of the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize 2018
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