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The Djinn’s Apple, by Djamila Morani: A Review

By Yumna Iqbal and Medha Godbole

The Djinn’s Apple is a novel written by author Djamila Morani, as historical fiction meets crime thriller. Winner of the English PEN Translates Award, this young adult murder mystery is set during the Abbasid period, otherwise known as the Golden Age of Baghdad, Iraq. It is perfect for fans of The Wrath and the Dawn or City of Brass, as it is set during Caliph Harun al-Rashid’s rule (786-809), who is widely known for his fictional portrayal in A Thousand and One Nights. The Djinn’s Apple is a story of love, loss, murder mystery and intrigue tangled with political affairs.

Djamila Morani is an Algerian novelist and professor of Arabic Literature and Language. She often writes historical fiction that is set primarily during the Abbasid period. Djamila lives in Western Algeria. 

Described as being “passionate about bringing narratives from the African continent to wider audiences,” Sawad Hussain is an Arabic translator. Her translation work has been recognised by many awards such as English PEN and the Palestine Book Awards. Studying at SOAS University of London, she received an MA in Modern Arabic Literature.

The Djinn’s Apple

At the onset, Djamila Morani’s The Djinn’s Apple, is a beautiful merger of historical and crime fiction. The novel has a distinct West Asian aspect, set in the golden Abbasid period in Baghdad. The protagonist, Nardeen Baramika, takes us through her desires, heartbreak, irreplaceable loss, her first love and closure. This novel was thrilling to read! It grabs your attention right from the start, setting up the scene as Nardeen’s home is stormed into by soldiers searching for one thing – a mysterious manuscript. Nardeen is the only one to make it out alive, and from the very start vows to bring justice to the Baramika name and restore her family’s legacy. 

At first glance the book is perfect simplicity, embodied. The reader is introduced to the character of Nardeen Baramika, a curious, headstrong girl who has a desire to become a doctor at Bimaristan, a respectable hospital complex in Baghdad. She spent much of her childhood studying medicine under the tutelage of her father, and has a chance to go there when residing with the famous Muallim Ishaq. The father-daughter relationship between the two characters is complex and Nardeen strives to prove herself to him. She’s a strong protagonist, as readers are able to empathise and relate to Nardeen’s character through Djamila’s writing.

The author provides a gripping backstory that will hook readers in as they learn about Nardeen and her family’s past. Key scenes in the novel are written with confident and emotive power, making great use of notable literary techniques. Her writing style is simple and effective, and the story setting is engaging , perhaps because of its comparative novelty in Western literary landscapes. Weaving a murder mystery around ancient medicinal practice seems like a tricky path to tread. But, Morani does it with elegance and an inherent ease. As a reader you don’t feel out of place while reading the descriptions where Nardeen goes about creating concoctions from medicinal herbs or plants. Throughout the story, there are many twists and turns, before presenting an ending that you won’t see coming. 

Even though this book falls into the young adult space, it is easily relatable for any adult – Morani powerfully explores the universal concept of grief; “the night my family died something in me broke. Its shards keep scratching at my soul, leaving me to bleed a little each day.”

Throughout the novel it is clear to see the passion in Morani’s storytelling, in the way the plot flows from the beginning to the end. In a nutshell, The Djinn’s Apple is bittersweet, in all the best ways. Ultimately, Nardeen will win your heart! A tale of familial relationships, loss, knowledge and the strive for power, we implore all our readers to read it!


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