Book review: Kabuko the Djinn - earth and fire

Published: February 16, 2014
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“When you were born, wailing and shaking with rage at your expulsion from the comfort of the womb, did you know, in your tiny infant brain, the exact trajectory of your life? Had you already decided in which events would shape you and how your personality would be? Had you decided on who would be your first love and who would be your last? Is that how it happens with humans? I have been very curious to know, you see. I am Kabuko. Kabuko the djinn.’’

Thus, begins the story of Kabuko, the central character in Hamraz Ahsan’s, Kabuko the Djinn. Intrigued by humans and a firm desire to know more about these beings and how they live by becoming a part of them, Kabuko enters the foetus of Ajee Shah in his mother’s womb. Through Ajee’s body and soul, begins Kabuko’s journey for human knowledge. He experiences and encounters a range of human feelings, emotions, relationships and conflicts in many situations for 30 years till he meets his nemesis, or as he himself says “poetic justice”. Kabuko is the omniscient narrator and narrates his story as Kabuko — Ajee’s soul mate inside him as well as Kabuko the djinn outside Ajee’s body and an outsider in the human world. Thus, the plot creates a different experience for readers with parallel perspectives of both a human and a djinn.

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Set in rural Punjab, the book gives us a factual and fanciful view of the lives of Punjabi folk — their beliefs regarding the occult and its effects on individuals and families. The escapades of Kabuko and Ajee Shah take us into to a world of religion, exorcism, mysticism, seduction — love, lust, rivalry, jealousy, power and hate. However, the book is interesting because of its unusual plot of a human and a djinn, beings of two different worlds, whose destinies become intertwined and leaves them struggling for survival and victory. What follows is an event that changes their lives forever.

The story is captivating and Ahsan’s simple language gives it a soothing, almost child-like appeal. The narrative will resonate with most of the readers and transport them back into their childhood days when such stories were often part of the daily storytelling episodes.

Ahsan is a gifted story teller. In his debut novel, he has skillfully woven fantasy, magic and realism (the mundane, everyday life) into a beautiful tapestry. Kabuko the Djinn is a witty, moving fantastical account, akin to a simplified Dastan-e-Ameer Hamza and other compelling narratives of magical realism. If not entirely gripping, it makes the reader want to move on to the next page to find out what happens next. The book is a commendable effort by the writer and a must-read for all fantasy lovers, even if it is lacking in some details.

Khadija Raza is a teacher and published author at the Oxford University Press. She is also a freelancer for ArtNOW. 

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, February 16th,  2014.

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