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City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi Paperback – March 25, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Delhi has a richly layered past, and Dalrymple (In Xanadu, McKay, 1990) deftly peels away each layer to reveal how the city came to be what it is today. Djinns are spirits said to be seen only after prolonged fasting and prayer; they too are integral to understanding the city. The author, a young Scot carrying on the fine British tradition of travel writing, has a knack for meeting fascinating people and capturing their most revealing remarks. He introduces us to dervishes, eunuchs, partridge fighting, weddings, and expatriates. His wife contributes sketches that nicely complement his text. Considering the importance of Delhi, the capital of the world's second most populous nation, this book deserves to be in most public and academic libraries.
Harold M. Otness, Southern Oregon State Coll. Lib., Ashland
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


'Delightful ... Surely one of the funniest books about India' TLS 'Now read by Tim Pigott-Smith, City of Djinns gets a wonderful new lease of life. Dalrymple has a rare gift for historical narrative and catches the engaging, Anglo-Indian speech of his cast with telling accuracy.' Independent 23/5/98 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 350 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (March 25, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142001007
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142001004
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (99 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #69,999 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4.6 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

66 of 67 people found the following review helpful By Ronald Pompeo on August 23, 2005
Format: Paperback
This book, 90% informative and 10% humorous, equals 100% reading enjoyment. It's a delightful and entertaining history of Delhi, India told in a very ingenious way: it runs in reverse pattern from conventional history books in that it starts with the most recent history first and then gradually works back into time, ending in the ancient. However, what I enjoyed the most was how the author always introduces some present-day aspect (an existing ruin or a living person) as background material on which he weaves his historical journey in and out of Delhi's past and present. For example, a Dr. Jaffrey is his link to the Red Fort; a now very old Indian-born English woman, Alice, describes her associations with Lutyens, the creator of New Delhi; a Pakeezah Begum, a crown-princess and librarian, is one of the last surviving descendants of the Mughal emperors and becomes the modern-day connection to history of the Mughal dynasty; and the very decrepit Residency tells you about Delhi's romantic past in the era when it was beautifully intact.

I don't know why, but to me the most poignant stories told were about the Anglo-Indians who ended up abandoned by both Britain and India after the birth of an independent India. I never realized such unfortunate people existed, becoming political refugees denied rights by India, the country of their birth; and by the UK, to which they had blood ties. Mr. Dalrymple interviews a few of these people who by now have grown old and are the living remnants of hardball politics of a bygone era. They give their personal accounts of their own hardships. As victims abused by the system, they were denied basic privileges. These interviews are still quite vivid in my memory.

In the midst of all the daunting history of this city, Mr.
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58 of 63 people found the following review helpful By Tim F. Martin on May 20, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
_City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi_ by William Dalrymple is an excellent portrait of a fascinating city. I have to admit, having read a few travel essay books on India that the image I had of the city was of a fairly uninteresting place, a "city of gray bureaucracy" as the author put it. Dalrymple showed me just how wrong I was in this intimate depiction of Delhi, past and present.

One of the first things the reader learns in this book is that there is more than one Delhi. The two main Delhis are Mughal Old Delhi and Punjabi New Delhi, each keeping largely to itself, each "absolutely certain of its superiority over the other." Old Delhi has been inhabited for thousands of years, its Urdu-speaking elite (both Hindu and Muslim) having lived in the city for many centuries, the city an ancient one of sophistication and culture, though also a city in severe decline, with many of its once magnificent palaces, gardens, tombs, and mosques, once examples of the "silky refinement" of Mughal architecture now crumbling into ruin, decaying into "something approaching seediness." Many of its citizens are among the last to practice trades dating back to Mughal times, and a large number of them live in exile in Pakistan. In contrast, New Delhi is a growing, booming, bustling city of hard-working nouveau-riche entrepreneurs, largely comprised of people whose roots only go back to the catastrophic days of Partition in 1947, when hundreds of thousands of Punjabi Sikh and Hindu refugees poured into the city.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By fdoamerica on July 31, 2000
Format: Paperback
A Djinn is a spirit, not visible to the naked eye, and to see one in Delhi, India you have to cleans yourself from the natural world by fasting and prayer . In the ancient city of Delhi there are thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of Djinns who serve to testify of both Delhi's glorious and hideous past. Delhi is one of the oldest cities in the world and for the past 3000 years has reincarnated itself. To uncover its culture and civilization takes the care and commitment of an archaeologist, or a journalist. William Dalrymple is an award winning journalist. In 1994 he was awarded the Cook Travel Award. In City of Djinns, William Dalrymple paints a vibrant portrait of Delhi past and present with colorful words. His journalistic research and unique writing skills call forth the spirits of both times past and present, illuminating for the reader the incredible history of this city.
His humorous and provocative description of how he spent a year in Delhi, with his artistic wife Olivia, while he researched the city's history brings contemporary Delhi alive. True to life characters, like his authoritative spendthrift landlady, Mrs. Puri, or his slightly maniacal taxi drive Balvinder Singh, give his settings an unusual liveliness. Add India pigeon lovers, mystical healers, an enterprising group of transvestites (eunuchs), the baffling Indian bureaucracy, weddings, parties, funerals and religious holidays and "voila" you have an entertaining and informative travel/history book.
If you are going to, or ever have been to Delhi, India you owe it to yourself to read City of Djinns. Recommended.
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