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City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi [Paperback]

William Dalrymple
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
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Book Description

20 Sep 1999

‘Could you show me a djinn?’ I asked. ‘Certainly,’ replied the Sufi. ‘But you would run away.’

From the author of the Samuel Johnson prize shortlisted ‘The Return of a King’, this is William Dalrymple’s captivating memoir of a year spent in Delhi, a city watched over and protected by the mischievous invisible djinns. Lodging with the beady-eyed Mrs Puri and encountering an extraordinary array of characters – from elusive eunuchs to the last remnants of the Raj – William Dalrymple comes to know the bewildering city intimately.

He pursues Delhi’s interlacing layers of history along narrow alleys and broad boulevards, brilliantly conveying its intoxicating mix of mysticism and mayhem.

‘City of Djinns’ is an astonishing and sensitive portrait of a city, and confirms William Dalrymple as one of the most compelling explorers of India’s past and present.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Flamingo; New Ed edition (20 Sep 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0006375952
  • ISBN-13: 978-0006375951
  • Product Dimensions: 13 x 2.5 x 20 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 15,937 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


‘Delightful … Surely one of the funniest books about India’ Times Literary Supplement

‘Scholarly and marvellously entertaining … a considerable feat’ Dervla Murphy, Spectator

‘Dalrymple has pulled it off again’ Jan Morris, Independent

From the Back Cover

Alive with the mayhem of the present and sparkling with William Dalrymple’s irrepressible wit, 'City of Djinns' is a fascinating portrait of a city.

Watched over and protected by the mischievous, invisible djinns, Delhi has, through their good offices, been saved from destruction many times over the centuries. With an extraordinary array of characters, from elusive eunuchs to the last remnants of the Raj, Dalrymple’s second book is a unique and dazzling feat of research. Over the course of a year he comes to know the bewildering city intimately, and brilliantly conveys its magical nature, peeling back successive layers of history, and interlacing innumerable stories from Delhi’s past and present.

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Mrs. Puri had achieved all this through a combination of hard work and good old-fashioned thrift. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
41 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Magical Read 14 Jun 2006
I am eternally grateful to Mr. Dalrymple for writing 'City Of Djinns' because it led me to view the city where I was born and where I now live in an entirely new light. I confess that despite spending ten of my sixteen years in Delhi I never went out of my way to find out its historical significance and my interaction with its monuments never progressed beyond a few cursory visits, acting as a (remarkably unqualified) guide to several NRI friends who were just as uncurious and complacent as I was.

It was only after reading this book for the first time about six months ago that I realized what I was missing out on, and since then I have made an attempt to set out and rediscover the city and its forgotten jewels. It amazes me how the author can see so much poetry in what appears to be a crumbling mass of ruins to the lay observer. Sometimes his description of the architectural features of a church or mosque or temple or tomb is a bit too erudite for me to fully comprehend, and then I have to look up the terms that he uses and agonize over photographs of that particular edifice, trying to see what all the fuss is about, but I think that's what really makes the book so delightful-there is a different and beautiful-sounding word for everything that is described.

The book, I thought, is very delicately structured, which is in keeping with the subject-Delhi, for all its bustle, lacks the cheery boldness of say, Mumbai, another great Indian city. There is a certain fragility about Delhi, which becomes more obvious as you venture into the Walled City, and it is exactly this elusive quality that Mr. Dalrymple has captured so beautifully in his book.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delhi days 22 Oct 2006
William Dalrymple is probably the best travel writer of his generation, both in his ability to evoke a sense of time and place, and his skill for shedding light on history in an engaging and accessible way. In contrast to his first book, the brilliant 'In Xanadu', Dalrymple focuses less on

his own experiences and more on unpeeling the multiple and intriguing layers of Delhi's history. This is not to say he is an invisible presence in the book, but that his personal account acts more as an access point for historical discovery than a narrative in itself - Paul Theroux this is not. 'A Year in Delhi' finds Dalrymple digging deeper and deeper into Delhi's history throughout his trip, unravelling the various epochs of the city, from the British Raj to the roots of The Mahabharata. At once amusing and erudite, Dalrymple also has a gift for sketching the surreal characters he meets along the way, from Sufi mystics and taxi drivers to his eccentric landlady. This must be the definitive travel companion for a trip to this fascinating and ancient city.
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43 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Semeen Khan from Pakistan 22 Aug 2006
It seldom happens to me that I select one particular author and then want to read every book written by him; William Dalrymple is one such author. To me his works In Xanadu, From the Holy Mountain, City of Djinns a year in Delhi are not just historical adventures they are kleidoscopes of worlds within worlds.

Delhi is a city that i love and i love it for all the reasons given in City of Djinns. This book is a complete picture of a city ravaged and re built, destroyed and recreated but What makes Dalrymple's Delhi different is that it takes a human shape, a face you recognise.

All events past and present in City of Djjins are within the grasp of the reader. Dalrymple writes about the Persian Massacre, Indian Mutiny of 1857 and the bloody Partition of 1947 but never taking you too far from the present day rickshaw noises or the eunuchs inhabiting the mysterious inner streets of old Delhi so one is not weighed down by history rather mediating between the two worlds.

Dalrymple is profound, sensitive but above all witty. On the ever changing modern day Delhi I quote the author, "Delhi was starting to unbutton. After the long victorian twilight the sari was beginning to slip".
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Dalrymple is a gifted writer with an ear for dialogue, a wry sense of humour, and an excellent command of Indian history. "City of Djinns" tells the story of Delhi, taking the reader back in time through the turbulent and bloodstained years of Partition, the paradox that was British imperial rule, the opulent splendour of the Mughal empire, and finally the ancient Indian civilisations that saw the birth of Hinduism in its earliest form. But this is no dry, fact-filled history textbook - it is spiced up with lively anecdotes from William and Olivia Dalrymple's (mis)adventures in Delhi (incorporating an inebriated taxi driver, a wheelchair-bound Sikh who is determined to make Olivia his wife, and a 'Muslim wedding in a Hindu ambulance') and also includes personal testimonies from a variety of colourful characters.
A very elderly Englishwoman, relic of the Raj, now shares a tin hut with a cobra and a posse of peacocks. ("I do hate waking up in the middle of the night to find a peacock in bed with me.") An astute Muslim scholar devotes himself to prayer and study, educating Dalrymple in the ways of Islam. An Indian gardener invents an Urdu-esque English dialect (flowerpots become fell-i-puts and hollyhocks are holi-ul-haqs) and the whole team is overseen by 'the Essex Man of the East', Balvinder Singh. His taxi always at your service.
At once humorous and poignant, "City of Djinns" is a testimony to a lifestyle that has now vanished for good. It made me wish I had been born thirty years earlier so I could have snatched a glimpse of it before it perished. In the words of one of Dalrymple's Anglo-Indian interviewees: " the end you can only go away and die in Cheltenham. And that,' Iris said with a sigh, 'is exactly what we did."
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars like all of William Dalrymple's books
Got this on someone else's recommendations and, like all of William Dalrymple's books, does not disappoint. An essential read before visiting Delhi and North India.
Published 1 month ago by W. Osborne
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Love it As always with Dalrymple
Published 2 months ago by H W Davidson
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliantly written
If you are looking for a brilliantly well written history and modern travel book then look no further than this. Having briefly visited Delhi I was eager to learn more. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Valerie Gilbert-Pollard
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written to immerse yourself in Dehi Culture
Prescribed reading if you are indending to travel to Rajashtan. Gives you real insite into British Raj and also details greater times in the past. Read more
Published 9 months ago by P J Ross
5.0 out of 5 stars A fantastic travel literature account
I love reading travel literature but for some reason have never read anything by Dalrymple before. This is a fantastic introduction to his travel writing and I am enjoying it so... Read more
Published 10 months ago by Leza H
5.0 out of 5 stars Better than going there!
William Dalrymple has such a good life and it's nice of him to share it with us. The combination of travel, history, politics and feasting all make for a good read. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Somerset
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
This is an excellent book. Extremely readable and full of amusing anecdotes. It balances both the more serious and the lighthearted perfectly. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Kimdli
5.0 out of 5 stars Very informative
A great book about the history of India as told by a British man who resides in the city for a year. Read more
Published 17 months ago by ChristophFischerBooks
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Read
I started reading this book just before I went on holiday to India, with Delhi being the first place I visited. I finished it on the plane home and absolutely loved it. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Christie
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful and essential if you are going to or have been to Delhi
I visited Delhi (and other parts of India) for the first time in January 2013. I was told about William and his various books and decided to give this one a go, seeing as I would... Read more
Published 19 months ago by A. Macdonald
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