The Djinn Waits a Hundred Years: A Novel

Image of The Djinn Waits a Hundred Years: A Novel
Release Date: 
January 9, 2024
Reviewed by: 

The Djinn Waits a Hundred Years is a wonderful love story, an engaging mystery expertly written and told, about loss and love . . .”

The Djinn Waits a Hundred Years is the debut novel in the US for Shubnum Khan. Khan is a distinguished writer from South Africa whose first novel, Onion Tears, was shortlisted for the Penguin Prize for African writing.

The Djinn Waits a Hundred Years is a literary, gothic, ghost story set near the coast of South Africa at Akbar Manzil, an estate built in 1919 by a rich and eccentric businessman from India, Akbar Ali Khan. Once grand, elaborate, and populated with exotic animals, the estate has fallen into decline and functions as a boardinghouse for a collection of misfits.

In the modern day, Sana, a young girl, arrives to stay with her father; both are dealing with the grief from the passing of Sana’s mother. Although most of the other tenants at Akbar Manzil disparage their dwelling, a home as odd as they are, Sana is intrigued by it. She is seeking a place where she belongs. She is also haunted by the ghost of her conjoined sister who died soon after the two were surgically separated years ago.

The story starts slowly but gains momentum when Sana unlocks a bedroom that has been sealed for almost a century. She sifts through items in the room discovering: old photographs, keepsakes and the diary of the woman who inhabited the room. She begins to unravel the mystery of what became of the woman, Meena Begum, unaware that she is under the watchful eye of Djinn who haunts mansion. The Djinn is tormented by the memory of Meena, whom he loved, and the tragedy that befell her.

The narrative weaves masterfully between and two timelines. Meena Begum is the second wife of Akbar Ali Khan. She worked at Akbar’s factory and was forced to marry him, incurring the scorn of both Akbar’s mother and his first wife, Jahanara. Although at first she is repulsed by Akbar, eventually, because of his patience and acts of kindness toward her, she falls in love with him.

Kahn’s writing style is concise and flowing, rarely drawing attention to itself but beautifully written, often the writing alone is enough to sustain the story as with the following passage where Kahn personifies items in the mansion:

“They scream and bang at their fate, hoping they will be discovered. A forgotten letter beneath a file, an ivory button in a couch, a handprint against a window. These things tremble in rage at their apparent insignificance. Eventually they calm down; they take deep breaths. They resign themselves to their fate and watch time pass.”

Although told mostly in Sana’s point of view, the story shifts through many different points of view, entering the minds of all the other residents—even the estate itself carries the narrative for brief passages. While this prevents the reader from closely identifying with Sana, it does link the diverse array of characters to their strange home, and Khan seamlessly paints them in bold strokes, all are easily identifiable and full.

The Djinn Waits a Hundred Years is a wonderful love story, an engaging mystery expertly written and told, about loss and love, that will resonate long after the book is finished.