Some books exist to entertain, others to transport, enlighten and shock you into pushing for change. Deepa Anappara’s debut novel is one of the latter. The story is set in a poor neighbourhood of a bustling Indian city, where a boy, Jai, and his two friends decide to investigate the disappearance of a local child. But their half-playful efforts and theories of evil djinns are soon overshadowed by more disappearances and a community brought to its limits. Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is a fiction based on reality, a fact that makes this must-read book even more moving.
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Jai tells most of the story as it unfolds, but there are sections throughout from other children’s point of view. Their perspectives don’t just lay out the plot, but also offer a glance into different domestic circumstances that boys and girls have to deal with. Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line looks at Indian culture through a child’s eye, both innocent and perceptive. As description mingles with personal thoughts and ideals, the tragedy of this narrative becomes more complex and intimate. A feat made possible by the immersive use of a child’s sight and voice.
A Cultural Portrait
Anappara spares no detail when it comes to setting the scenes Jai and other characters find themselves in. Living and surviving in poverty is at the story’s core, so Jai’s experiences paint quite a vivid picture of the neighbourhood, market, school and people defining them. It’s a riveting reality that then clashes with that of India’s elite, perched in their sparkling high-rises in the distance. Through rich description, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line portrays the terrible injustices of class distinction, as well as a heartbreaking story about loss of family and innocence.
Representations of Discord
A child’s perspective offers a fresh look at divisive issues, like religion or gender, that frame the main plot. Sexism is rife and tensions between Hindus and Muslims rise as the blatant kidnapping continue. Police corruption also comes up, shaking Jai’s ambition of becoming a famous detective. One after another, these concepts disturb the boy’s innocent view of the world, introducing him to new glum aspects of reality. As heartbreaking as his fictional coming-of-age tale is, what makes it that much more potent is its inspiration: very real stories of human monsters exploiting poverty.
Deepa Anappara combines Jai’s innocent viewpoint of child kidnappings and the community they devastate with real-world elements, from Indian everyday life to its nightmares. A powerful message hits home of the persistent flaws in human society. In terms of literary quality, Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is a well-constructed and easy-to-read work that packs a meaningful punch. Apart from multiple awards, including being longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020, this debut novel continues to turn heads and may hopefully help change the world for the better.
Currently available in hardback, ebook and audio book form. Paperback will be released 28 January 2021.
Here’s another culturally immersive debut novel with a child narrator…