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Six Tales of Djinn

The new globe-spanning, time-traveling, multi-genre collection The Djinn Falls in Love features more than twenty different texts—stories, poems, a novel excerpt—about the creatures of smokeless fire described in the Qur’an.

As Egyptian critic Nehad Selaiha once explained, djinn are tightly connected with poetry and madness, and are thus natural material for stories. “The root of the word is the verb 'janna', which means to become or make invisible; hence, the plural noun 'jinn' refers to invisible creatures who also can hide things, and 'majnoun' (mad) means literally a person haunted by a jinni (the singular noun of jinn) who causes him/her to see, do and say strange and weird things.”

For those who enjoyed The Djinn Falls in Love, five more books are now in English.

The The Scarecrow

The Scarecrow is the third novel in the Libyan novelist’s New Waw trilogy. It’s a story of greed and human corruption set among the desert Tuareg people. Here, it’s not only humans who lose their way, but also the jinn who enter our world.

It is related that the hero--once he was liberated from possession by the jinn--retreated to a corner of his house and wept for his dead slave there for days. The herbalist came to treat his bloody eyes, which he had almost plucked out during his temporary insanity on that ill-omened day. He found his patient swaying side to side like a person in an ecstatic trance. His veil was dangling down, revealing the lower half of his face. From his chest rose a muffled, painful wail, and with his fist he was pounding a monotonous beat on the house floor--which was covered with skins--as if keeping time to an unknown tune no one else could hear.

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Alif the Unseen

Alif is an excellent introduction to fantastical tales of jinn. This love-and-hacking story takes place in an unnamed Gulf country where a young Arab-Indian, who calls himself Alif, shields his clients from surveillance and enters the world of jinn. Wilson even has a guide to five types of jinn on her website.

“Too hot for cat or man,” said Alif. He yawned and tasted metal. The air was thick and oily, like the exhalation of some great machine. It invaded rather than relieved the lungs and, in combination with the heat, produced an instinctive panic. Intisar once told him that the City hates her inhabitants and tries to suffocate them. She—for Intisar insisted the City was female—remembers a time when purer thoughts bred purer air: the reign of Sheikh Abdel Sabbour, who tried so valiantly to stave off the encroaching Europeans; the dawn of Jamat Al Basheera, the great university; and earlier, the summer courts of Pari-Nef, Onieri, Bes. She has had kinder names than the one she bears now. Islamized by a jinn-saint, or so the story goes, she sits at a crossroads between the earthly world and the Empty Quarter, the domain of ghouls and effrit who can take the continued shapes of beasts. If not for the blessings of the jinn-saint entombed beneath the mosque at Al Basheera, who heard the message of the Prophet and wept, the City might be as overrun with hidden folk as it is with tourists and oil men.

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Landfalls

Mackintosh-Smith is one of the great travel writers, in the tradition of Ibn Battouta, and indeed has followed in Ibn Battouta’s footsteps. Here, Mackintosh-Smith writes of encountering jinn in the real world, and their relationship to alcohol.

'Ahmad summons the jinn,' Pascal went on. 'They come and enter him and help him to perform exorcisms.'

I took this in. 'It doesn't sound very Islamic.'

'Well, he gives it all an Islamic basis. Part of the summoning process involves reciting phrases from the Qadiri dhikr and so on.' I recalled those snatches of sufi litany I'd heard. 'And most of his jinn are good Muslim ones from Arabia. He's got a favourite, an Arabian female jinni called Karimah. And there are others. They come and possess him in a set order.'

'So there's a sort of placement, an etiquette.'

'Yes, but the infidel foreign jinn aren't so well behaved. There are American jinn, who are very malevolent. And British jinn.'

'How do they rate?' I asked, feeling defensive about my fellow country-...well, not countrymen, but one has to keep the side up.

'Not as bad as the American ones.'

'Phew,' I said. 'But how does Ahmad get hold of these infidel jinn? I mean, he'd hardly be able to lure them with Islamic recitations.'

'He uses all sorts of things. Including beer and whisky.'

'What, as libations?'

'No,' Pascal said, laughing. 'He drinks them!'

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Monarch of the Square

This collection, which spans the great Moroccan storyteller's career, borrows five stories from his 1984 collection The King of the Jinn, including "Shamharush, King of the Jinn." In this story, the disabled Sulaiman -- and his parents -- believe he will be able to walk with the Jinn King's blessing (and by paying just a little more).

"Ah, if only you could walk, Sulaiman!" said his mother as she watched the skinny donkey move away. "We could walk those few kilometers and save the money we're going to have to pay the cart driver. But, with God's will and the blessing of Sidi Shamharush, the King of the Jinn, you'll be able to walk."

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And one that should be translated soon:

Salim Barakat’s Regions of Djinn

Barakat’s 2016 novel is rife with his characteristic innovation of form and content and his personal magic. Here, the djinn are the “real” world and the humans are the intruders. And as Jonathan Morén, Barakat's Swedish translator, has said: "It’s truly remarkable that there is no full-length translation into English of what is to my mind the most original novelist writing in Arabic today."

Marcia Lynx Qualey is a court poet, ghost writer, and itinerant scribe with a focus on Arab and Arabic literatures. Writes for The Guardian, The Chicago Tribune, Deutchse Welle, The National, and ... Show More