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The Djinn waits a hundred years

Fifteen-year-old Sana has just moved to Durban, a city on the eastern coast of South Africa, with her father. Her mother, a victim of cancer, died a few years earlier and her father believes the move to the once grand, now dilapidated, estate that is an odd type of apartment building will help both of them. The existing tenants, an eccentric group of older women, along with the landlord, a man known as Doctor, agree on very little, with one exception: the house is haunted.

Sana is familiar with ghosts. She was born half of a pair of conjoined twins and has been haunted by the ghost of her twin sister since her death shortly after the surgery separating them.

As Sana tries to get settled in her new home, she begins to explore the building and gets to know her new neighbors., The estate, named Akbar Manzil, is huge. It is a mélange of architectural styles, including English and Indian influences. There are multiple floors, with wings of rooms, and the remnants of lush, ornate gardens with cages once used to enclose exotic animals. One day, Sana finds a room on the top floor that appears to have been frozen in time. As she explores it, she discovers a secret room hidden above the ceiling that is only accessible by a ladder. In this room she finds a writing desk and a series of journals dating a century ago. As Sana reads the journals, she learns the history of the house and about the people who lived here.

Watching her read those journals is a spirit that came to the house over a hundred years ago, drawn to one of the residents, and has stayed, grieving, ever since because of the terrible things that happened there.

In The Djinn Waits a Hundred Years, Shubnum Khan draws from several well-established genres (ghost stories, haunted houses, gothic romance, coming of age), infuses them with the locale of South Africa and the culture of East India and populates it with fascinating and memorable characters. The result is a lush, complex, funny, and heartbreaking novel.

Akbar Manzil, the grand estate built in the early 20th century that has devolved to a boarding house over the course of a century, is a character in the novel. Grand, opulent, and eccentric, like it’s owner, Akbar Manzil changes over the years losing its luster and falling into disrepair. The building is another character in this story. It seems ashamed of, and unable to recover from, its past. It heaves, sighs, and manifests other reactions as Sana pursues the answers to her questions about the past.

Khan fills Akbar Manzil with a marvelous cast of characters. Ranging from privileged to borderline impoverished, they are an eccentric, eclectic group with strong opinions and voices to express them. While there are disagreements and bickering, there is also a lot of caring, for and about, each other (although none of them would ever express it to the others). They are a family, bound together by sharing Akbar Manzil as their home.

While the novel deals with some truly horrific occurrences, including potentially malevolent spirits and some truly upsetting imagery as the house expresses its displeasure, Khan never lingers in the dark, only using it to emphasize the trauma the house, and its earlier residents, endured.

Ultimately, The Djinn Waits a Hundred Years is a celebration of life. Of defying convention to create the life you want with the person with whom you wish to share it. Of striking out into the unknown to start your life over again, or begin a young life for the first time. Of reconciling the past so one can create their own future. And of recognizing, and rejoicing, those with whom you find yourself sharing your journeys.