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on 22 August 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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on 14 June 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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on 22 October 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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VINE VOICEon 21 February 2006
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: "...in 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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on 4 January 2007
It is hard for most people to pick out the highlights of one's life.....reading this book for me is surely one of them.

I have read this book several times now...each time I spot another gem.
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on 8 July 2002
Dalrymple set himself an awesome task - to make sense in a mere 250 pages of Delhi, not one city but eight, each superimposed upon the preceding one, each a complex of myriad interlocking mini-cities with their own history and customs. Where do you begin ? How do you give form and structure to such a jumble ? After all, as V.S. Naipaul observed in "India - a million mutinies now", the nation's history only acquired a sense of direction, only became understandable and memorable, once the British arrived and drove India down their peculiar path.
Dalrymple's trick then is to cut back and forth between his year in Delhi and the historical accounts of the visitors and conquerors who have written about Delhi since Ibn Battuta. His prose is vivid, light and absorbing. In form, content and theme he sells the convincing message of Delhi as the place par excellence where history still lives if you know where to look for it.
But there's a price to pay for imposing an order upon Delhi. The result is of necessity contrived. As you read of the deliberation with which Dalrymple made to assemble his colourful characters (the nutty landlord, the Islamic scholar, the eunuchs),you realise that the author was gathering "material" from day one, rather than letting the city speak for itself. In glamourising his hunts for the monumemt's of Delhi's "hidden" past, he somehow neglects to mention that they're all on the standard tourist circuit and you just pay a ticket to go in.
But, most importantly of all, by writing off the post-Independence influx of Punjabi Hindus as an aberration from Delhi Muslim destiny, he managed to be simultaneously offensive and to ignore the current reality of Delhi. Can one imagine how a travel book on London would go down if it treated the city's current multi-cultural cosmopolitan ambience as a regrettable side-track from its 19th century pure English glories ?
In short, if Dalrymple had come clean and written "City of Djinns" as a popular, readable history of pre-Independence Delhi, he'd have succeeded splendidly. By calling this travel writing, he does a severe injustice to the city's current complexity.
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on 5 March 2016
I read this book a few years ago and am presently enjoying it over again!It is a very well written book with evocative descriptions of both Delhi and the Indian people.Somehow William Dalrymple brings it all alive his writing is entertaining and it is a book not easily put down as you want to see what is going to occur next! Very much recommended.
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on 2 August 2006
Short of catching the first thing smoking to Delhi, this is as good as it gets ,ensconsced as I am in my hammmock.....!

Gently unravelling and revealing the timeless rituals , sounds , odours and pulse of the tapestry that is Delhi , William D.steers you gently down history's cobwebbed backstreets.

As a global citizen of Indo-Lusitanian ancestry I find it both humbling and inspiring that a Scotsman has opened my eyes to the mystique of the legacy that some of them helped create and for that I'm forever indebted .

If he has not already been granted the freedom of the city , he should be ...!
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on 2 August 2001
As in his previous works, William Dalrymple makes the reader want to head straight to the nearest travel agency and book a flight on the next flight to Delhi. Not only does he describe the minutiae of daily life in Delhi, but also the turbulance of the sub-continent's history; and on the way the reader meets a fascinating array of characters , dead, alive and spiritual! I was particularly interested by the diaries and art collection of William Fraser of Moniack House. A beautifully written book and a joy to read..... I'd like lots more! If ever I have the chance to 'do' Delhi I would ideally like William Dalrymple as my guide, failing that I shall take the City of Djinns.
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on 10 September 2007
« City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi » William Dalrymple HarperCollins 1993

« City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi » was my travel reading for my first trip to India in the summer of 2007, a trip which began and ended in Delhi. Having read other writers and other Dalrymple books on India before I set out, I read « City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi » first on my outward journey, and then reviewed it again as we made our way back to Delhi on the last stage of our tour. The book was an invaluable resource, supplementing the ill-informed and poorly spoken guides who were difficult to understand and unable to answer questions in any depth. Dalrymple's book helped me to tie the city and its sites and history together into some sort of coherent whole. I also found the pen-and-ink illustrations by Dalrymple's wife Olivia Fraser very illuminating. Although at first sight they struck me as much too calm and uncluttered to convey the true image of the places they posed, I later came to appreciate how they captured the inherent essence of their subject and spoke volumes in their simple way.

As a journalist, Dalrymple has a knack for finding the right people to talk with - people with living memories of the time he writes about, who can bring to life the crumbling ruins they inhabit and instil us with visions of the beauty that once radiated in Delhi. It is certainly difficult to see today but reading the stories did help me to understand the sensibilities of some of the « Delhi-wallahs » we encountered in our travels.

My one criticism of the book is that he reuses material that has appeared elsewhere, which broke the rhythm of my involvement with his story and made me feel uncomfortable. These passages were extensive, and not changed sufficiently to feel new in any way. I was surprised that his editors allowed this to pass, unless there were deadline difficulties.

The overall impression that I was left with is that India today is still suffering from the reverberations of the devastation of partition, which brought incomprehensible tragedy and hardship and touched almost every family in India in one way or another. As we watch India vie for its place in the globalised technological marketplace, we will understand her better if we remember this recent back-story in her development.
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