Tuesday, 3 March 2020

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara

Reviewer: Catriona Troth

What We Thought of It

Yet another spellbinding book of which I first heard an extract at the Asian Writers Festival 2018.

Deepa Anappara is a journalist who spent a long time investigating cases of children going missing in the bastis (or slums) of Indian cities – where (as Anappara notes in her Afterward) as many as 180 children are said to go missing every day. But within the restrictions of news articles, she could never find a way of conveying the “resilience, cheerfulness and swagger” of the children she encountered during her investigations.

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line is her attempt to put that record straight. When their friends from school start to go missing, and the police seem wholly uninterested in helping the distressed families, nine-year-old Jai and his friends Pari and Faiz decide to take matters into their own hands and conduct their own investigation. Jai is an avid watcher of police dramas on television and is sure that he knows exactly what needs to be done. But will their zeal just bring them into danger themselves?

Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line takes horrifying statistics of missing children and personalises them, reminding us that, for each and every one, there is a family grieving.

“Inside that house sadness sticks to me like a shirt damp with sweat on a hot summer’s day.”

The child viewpoint here is wonderfully drawn and Anappara has indeed captured the irrepressible cheekiness of her protagonists. But don’t be fooled. This is not the Famous Five transported to a unnamed Indian city, and the evil that lurks in the basti is no comic book villain who could have got away with it if it wasn’t for those pesky kids. The journalist in Anappara knows the truth is far darker than that.

As the story unfolds, it takes in the vast gulfs of inequality in modern Indian society, the fragility of life in the basti, and how suspicion leads only too easily to sectarian mistrust and, ultimately, violence.

A heart-breaking story that nonetheless captures the joyous resilience of children living on the brink.

Longlisted for the 2020 Women’s Prize for Fiction

You Will Enjoy This If You Loved: The Baby Ganesh Agency series by Vaseem Khan, Freedom by Catherine Johnson, Easy Motion Tourist by Leye Adenle

Avoid If You Dislike: Stories of missing children; child narrators

Perfect Accompaniment: Dahl and roti

Genre: Literary Fiction, Crime Fiction




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