The House of Djinn

The House of Djinn

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by Suzanne Fisher Staples

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It has been ten years since Shabanu staged her death to secure the safety of her daughter, Mumtaz, from her husband's murderous brother. Mumtaz has been raised by her father's family with the education and security her mother desired for her, but with little understanding and love. Only her American cousin Jameel, her closest confidant and friend, and the beloved


It has been ten years since Shabanu staged her death to secure the safety of her daughter, Mumtaz, from her husband's murderous brother. Mumtaz has been raised by her father's family with the education and security her mother desired for her, but with little understanding and love. Only her American cousin Jameel, her closest confidant and friend, and the beloved family patriarch, Baba, understand the pain of her loneliness. When Baba unexpectedly dies, Jameel's succession as the Amirzai tribal leader and the arrangement of his marriage to Mumtaz are revealed, causing both to question whether fulfilling their duty to the family is worth giving up their dreams for the future.

A commanding sequel to the novels Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind and Haveli, The House of Djinn stands on its own. Suzanne Fisher Staples returns to modern-day Pakistan to reexamine the juxtaposition of traditional Islamic values with modern ideals of love.
The House of Djinn is a 2009 Bank Street - Best Children's Book of the Year.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

As atmospheric and suspenseful as its predecessors, Shabanuand Haveli, this evocative novel transports readers to an intriguing corner of the universe to provide an insightful look at modern Middle Eastern culture. Fortunately, readers need no previous familiarity with the saga of Shabanu, fourth wife of a Pakistani tribal leader's son; they will readily enter Staples's world. As the story opens, Shabanu's husband, Rahim, has been killed by his brother during a land dispute, and Shabanu has gone into hiding, allowing her parents to believe she is dead. Meanwhile, her teenage daughter, Mumtaz, is being raised by an abusive aunt in the family compound. Mumtaz, often treated like a servant, finds a trustworthy friend and confidant in cousin Jameel, who now lives in America but returns with his parents to Pakistan each summer. As Staples investigates the perspectivesof the three main characters, Shabanu, Mumtaz and Jameel, she shows how each feels disjointed from the family but remains bound by ancient traditions. Western and Islamic ways clash, yet the author so thoroughly immerses readers in the setting that few will want to judge. Like most of Staples's fiction, this work significantly enlarges the reader's understanding of a complex society. Ages 12-up. (Apr.)

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Children's Literature - Meredith Kiger
This interesting but often confusing story introduces young adult readers to the Pakistani culture especially as it pertains to women and girls. It centers on Shabanu, a young woman of 30, and her large extended family. Shabanu has been in hiding for 10 years following the murder of her husband by his brother. The brother had threatened to kill Shabanu and her young daughter, Mumtaz, as well. To save her daughter, Shabanu goes into hiding at her sister-in-law's house. Her husband's family takes in her daughter but treats her like a servant. Mumtaz believes that her mother is dead. Shabanu finally decides to come out of hiding and secretly meets with her daughter. Her daughter has mixed emotions about the revelation. The story explores the juxtaposition of American and Pakistani culture, especially among teenagers, as Mumtaz struggles with young love and her cousin, Jameel, who lives in San Francisco, does, too. The author describes all facets of Pakistani life, so different from our own, using their language when possible; however, the overuse of descriptive adjectives often interferes with the rhythm and understanding of the prose. The large extended family is difficult to keep straight, but the differences in culture are worth learning about for young people's understanding of our world. Reviewer: Meredith Kiger, Ph.D.
VOYA - Amy S. Pattee
This sequel to Shabanu (Knopf, 1989/VOYA April 1990) and Haveli (1993/VOYA December 1993) finds the now not-quite-thirty-year-old Shabanu in hiding in her family's Lahore, Pakistan, city estate, where she has lived for ten years, sequestered on a rooftop. The onetime "daughter of the wind" can no longer tolerate hiding from the in-laws who think her dead and dreams of reuniting with her daughter, fifteen-year-old Mumtaz. Mumtaz, known as Muti, lives unhappily with Shabanu's dead husband's family, her education and upbringing assured by Shabanu's brother-in-law. A confluence of events-Shabanu's decision to leave the haveli and make herself known to her daughter, the grave illness of the family patriarch, and Muti and her cousin Jameel's first attempts at independence-lead to family crisis as disparate members of the clan battle for control. Staples's third novel recounts several incidents from the earlier books in the series (it has, after all, been over ten years since the publication of Haveli) but moves quickly toward its climax, the resolution of which might surprise Western readers. As usual, Staples includes rich, descriptive detail throughout the narrative and incorporates details of contemporary Pakistani life in a non-didactic way. The faster pace and shorter length of the third novel is in sharp contrast to the first two books, and although it might draw new readers, fans of Staples's other Shabanu stories might find themselves wanting more from this installment. Reviewer: Amy S. Pattee
AGERANGE: Ages 12 to 18.

This is Staples’s third novel about Shabanu’s family in the tribal areas of Pakistan, following Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind and Haveli. It is actually more the story of Shabanu’s daughter Mumtaz, who is now 15 years old, and it isn’t necessary to have read the first two books to pick up the story here. Because Mumtaz’s cousin Jameel, who is growing up in San Francisco, is also a main character, and since their families are hastily arranging a marriage between Mumtaz and Jameel, readers in the West will learn a great deal about the cultural divides between the tribal expectations in Pakistan and a skateboarding-loving American teenager. A djinn is a spirit, a ghost, and it is said that such a being inhabits their grandfather’s home. Mumtaz is aware of the djinn, just as she is amazingly sensitive and intelligent about many aspects of her family’s life. There is danger, as the evil uncle plots to kill them, just as he killed Mumtaz’s father ten years before. The streets of Lahore seem wonderfully beautiful and exotic to the Western reader, and Staples knows Pakistan well and can convey the complicated aspects of its traditional culture. This will especially appeal to teenagers with a family connection to South Asia--the photograph on the cover is strikingly attractive. Reviewer: Claire Rosser
March 2008 (Vol. 42, No.2)

School Library Journal

Gr 7-10- Splendidly drawn characters caught between ancient Pakistani traditions and modern Western influences mark this strong sequel to Staples's Shabanu (1989) and Haveli (1993, both Knopf). For 10 years, Mumtaz has lived uneasily with her deceased father's extended family, sent there when her mother, Shabanu, staged her own death to protect her daughter from her treacherous Uncle Nazir. Attending a modern school and doted on by her grandfather Baba, a tribal patriarch who embraces Western ways of thinking, Mumtaz treasures the arrival each summer of her skateboarding cousin and best friend Jameel, who lives in California with his parents. At 15, Mumtaz is thrown into emotional disarray when she learns that Shabanu is alive and in hiding nearby. Then Baba's unexpected death prompts Jameel's succession as tribal leader, and the edict that Jameel and Mumtaz are to be married leaves the teens reeling. The richly detailed backdrop of upper-class Pakistani life in Lahore ranges from private country clubs to open-air markets, with exotic touches such as secret messages sent by pigeons. Staples adds a supernatural element via the djinn who appears to Mumtaz and Jameel in the form of Baba, offering posthumous guidance and protection. The author explores the role of educated women in traditional Islamic society, the importance of family and tribe in the Pakistani social structure, and the impact of Western education on emerging leadership through the candid reactions, honest emotions, and complex relationships of multidimensional people. Their story moves along quickly and intensely with elements of intrigue and adventure, holding readers' attention and sympathies.-JoyceAdams Burner, Hillcrest Library, Prairie Village, KS

Kirkus Reviews
In this eloquently written sequel to Shabanu: Daughter of the Wind (1989) and Haveli (1993), Shabanu has been in hiding for ten years, fearing for the life of her daughter, Mumtaz. Everyone, including her parents and daughter, believes Shabanu to be dead, but it's time for her to return from "the realm of the buried" and seek out her daughter. Fifteen-year-old Mumtaz has fallen in love with her Hindu tennis teacher at the Lahore Club; meanwhile, her cousin Jameel lives in California and has given his heart to a beautiful Jewish skateboarder. When the family's patriarch dies, his choice of successor stirs up old jealousies and renewed violence, causing the lives of Shabanu, Mumtaz and Jameel to converge. Staples skillfully draws readers into the complicated web of relationships in the fictional Amirzai family in this fascinating tale of the conflict between tribal tradition and modernization in contemporary Pakistan. Though this can stand on its own, familiarity with its predecessors adds depth and richness to an important saga. (author's note, glossary) (Fiction. 11+)

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 8.16(h) x 0.87(d)
940L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 18 Years

Read an Excerpt

The House of Djinn


A small, slender woman with dark eyes stood near the edge of the roof looking out over the walled city of Lahore and reimagined her life. She had watched the seasons change over the red sandstone walls and the marble domes of the Badshahi Mosque for ten years. But this day she'd awakened knowing it would be the last morning of her old life.

Behind her, pigeons burbled and cooed softly to each other as they settled onto their roosts inside a room-sized wire cage in the middle of the rooftop courtyard. She let herself into the enclosure and picked up one of the birds, Barra, a proud old male who nestled his beak into the crack between her fingers.

The birds had belonged to Rahim, Shabanu's husband. After he was gone they were hers. In the old days, when the telephone trunk lines were undependable, Rahim had kept the pigeons to send messages back to his farm in Okurabad, about two hundred miles away. His most trusted servant,Ibne, kept another set of pigeons at the farm to return messages to the haveli in the city. Pigeons fly home with unfailing instinct, but they will not fly in the opposite direction. And so Ibne and Rahim transported the birds back and forth by truck. Later, when the telephone trunk lines were replaced by satellite signals, Rahim and Ibne continued to use the birds. They never tired of talking about them, comparing their speed and the color of their feathers: green for faithfulness, gray for speed, brown for strength.

Shabanu handled them every day when she fed them and changed their water and cleaned their cages. She stroked Barra's round gray head with the knuckle of her forefinger. The pigeon turned a pink eye on Shabanu, and his tiny heart fluttered against the palm of her hand.

Shabanu imagined words that might let her family know she was alive and well, that she would come to them soon. They must be words that would not expose herself and her daughter, Mumtaz, to her murderous brother-in-law Nazir. They must be beautiful words that would speak to her parents' hearts. Even as she contemplated the danger of sending them, she knew what they would be.

She stroked Barra's breast again and pressed her lips to feathers that shone pink and gray and green all at once before releasing him back into the enclosure. She shut the door to the cage behind her and walked past the parapet that overlooked the mosque and the Shahi Qila, the Old Fort adjacent to it.

Every day of her ten years on the roof of the haveli Shabanu had looked out at the fort and thought of Anarkali,who had been buried alive inside its western wall at the turn of the seventeenth century. The Mogul emperor Akbar had murdered the beautiful dancing girl whose name meant "pomegranate blossom" because his son had fallen in love with her.

When Shabanu had awakened this morning, her first thought was this: "You are living like the dead." Nothing had changed. She knew Nazir would kill her if he found her, just as he'd threatened to do after he'd killed his brother Rahim, and Shabanu had refused to marry him. But this morning she awoke knowing Nazir no longer had power over her. She tried to connect this thought to a dream, or a conversation she might have overheard from one of the rooftops across the way. But it felt more like a notion that had been swimming below the surface, circling like a primitive fish toward the light, waggling at her insistently, as if warning her not to ignore it.

Every night, from the realm of the buried, Shabanu dreamed of Mumtaz asking a child's questions, about where the stars went during the day, and why the shadow of the sun followed her wherever she went. There had been no one to answer these wonderings as her daughter grew. Now Mumtaz was fifteen, a young woman, and Shabanu imagined her with narrowed eyes that accused her mother of betrayal when she learned Shabanu had hidden herself away all these years. The heat of shame in Shabanu's cheeks was the most familiar sensation she felt when she thought of her daughter.

These ten years Shabanu had felt the absence of Mumtazmore keenly than she'd ever felt her presence. It was like a piece missing from the center of her heart where a mother's love should be.

The other greatest source of Shabanu's pain was that she'd left her mother and father growing old in the Cholistan Desert believing she was dead. She wanted to go to them, to ease their hearts, to see for herself that they were well. Sometimes it seemed her heart was made more of holes than solid parts, and that was her reason for sending the pigeon to Ibne. She had a physical need to see her daughter and to return to Cholistan.

Her days on the rooftop of the haveli were not so bad. Rahim's sister, Selma, who lived in the great old house below, visited her every day. Often they played cards in the evening, and talked over dinner. Samiya, a widow who was Selma's house servant and companion, joined them when she'd finished her chores in the kitchen.

Shabanu dreamed of a future in which she would return to Cholistan and teach the desert women to read so they could teach their children. She studied and she wrote poems and played her flute on the roof of the haveli, which stood a half story taller than the surrounding houses, so no one ever saw her. The poems were the letters from her heart that she couldn't send because no one could know she was alive. The flute music was her conversation with the world, expressing all of the wonder and hope she felt, despite her limited life.

Shabanu entered the summer pavilion, whose walls of carved marble screens had been her prison and her home.She crossed the stone-tiled floor to the low wooden desk where she had learned to read, and where she wrote and studied. Samiya had taught Shabanu and Mumtaz to read and write, first in Urdu and then in English. Shabanu sat on the floor cushion behind the desk and picked up the pen from the slot in its surface. She drew a sheet of the lightest parchment from the desk drawer and remembered the lines of a poem by the Sufi mystic Rumi. She wrote:

Flying toward thankfulness you become the rare bird with one wing made of fear, and one of hope.

She folded the parchment, and refolded it into a square, then rolled it into a thin cylinder. She stood and returned to the pigeon enclosure. She closed the door and held out her hand. Barra landed lightly on her wrist. Shabanu talked softly to the bird and flicked the latch on the plastic capsule attached to Barra's leg. The lid clicked open. She threaded the parchment into the compartment and snapped the lid back into place. She stroked the pigeon's cheek once more and carried him to the edge of the roof.

Reaching both hands toward the sky, she released Barra. Immediately the bird's wings stroked the air, and he rose up against the red walls of the Shahi Qila. Shabanu's heart lifted as the pigeon, who'd been imprisoned on the haveli's roof for the same ten years, dipped, then soared as he caught the wind, his wings golden-edged in the sharpening light ofmorning. The last Shabanu saw of Barra was the iridescent green flash of his neck feathers as he rose against the red wall where Anarkali remained buried to that day.

Barra was an old bird, and had not flown any distance in a very long time. But he had been one of Rahim's best pigeons, and Shabanu believed he would fly for his home at Okurabad, faithful and mindless as an old retainer. Ibne would be there to open his cage. He would recognize Barra, and from the poem he'd know that only Shabanu could have sent him. Ibne and Rahim had shared a love of the Sufi poets, especially Rumi. Every evening one of them would recite a Rumi poem, and the other would reply with another. Shabanu learned them by heart before she could read.

Rahim had fallen in love with Shabanu when she was only a girl. She was on a ladder rescuing her cousins from a tree when he saw her first, and he was captivated by her flashing eyes. He'd never stopped loving her, although her family were poor, nomadic camel herders. Rahim sent Ibne as a go-between, bearing gifts of gems in small lambskin sacks for Shabanu and her family. Ibne rode into the desert on a handsome white stallion, and he spoke to her parents with respect. Shabanu never loved Rahim and never wanted to marry him. But her parents had left her no choice, and he had been a good husband. She was certain Ibne would carry her note and read it to her parents in the Cholistan Desert.

Shabanu gazed at the sky beyond the minaret until long after Barra disappeared. And then she began to plan the rest of her day. Selma was going to visit her brother Mahsood, who had succeeded Rahim as tribal leader, for the afternoon andevening. Mahsood lived in a rambling old colonial bungalow across the city in Gulberg. Rahim always said his brother's house was haunted by mischievous djinn spirits: strange smells emanated from its interior, and lights appeared from nowhere, hovering menacingly before disappearing again. Rahim had seldom gone there. It was the house where Mumtaz lived, and Shabanu could bear the thought only because Rahim's nephew Omar also lived there, and she trusted him to protect her daughter with his life.

Selma wouldn't return until after a big dinner in honor of her niece Nargis and her family, who were returning to San Francisco after spending the summer in Lahore.

On this first day of her new life, Shabanu planned to slip out of the haveli while Selma was away and Samiya was busy, first in the laundry and then with shopping for groceries. Selma and Samiya were the only two people on earth who knew Shabanu lived on the roof. They had protected Shabanu faithfully these ten years, because they knew how dangerous Nazir could be.

Today Shabanu would hide herself within the billowing folds of a burqa and walk deeper into the old city to the bazaar, just to see what life looked like, this life that had been slipping past without her.

Shabanu waited inside the pavilion when she heard Samiya's quick knock at the door at the top of the stairs from the center courtyard below.

"I think the sky will turn itself inside out this morning," Samiya said. "I'm going to hurry with the laundry. Perhaps it'll dry before it rains." She set Shabanu's breakfast traydown on the table and poured tea. A glass of sweet lime juice, cloudy green and fragrant, and a plate with two onion paratha sat on the tray. "Would you like anything else?" Shabanu shook her head and smiled, and Samiya scurried out of the room, collecting Shabanu's dirty laundry from the basket at the back wall, outside the bathroom, as she went.

Samiya was just a few years older than Shabanu. She had worked as an ayah in the haveli across the lane. When the children were grown, Samiya had moved into Selma's house. She and Shabanu had become fast friends. Shabanu loved Samiya's birdlike quickness, her efficiency of movement and thought, her absolute loyalty, her sense of fun.

Shabanu heard the rhythmic thump of the washing machine down in the courtyard. She went to the trunk in her wardrobe and dug deep down to the bottom until she found the voluminous gray burqa that she hadn't worn since she took up life on the roof of the haveli. It smelled of mold and mothballs. Shabanu shook it out and laid it across her bed.

She imagined Samiya pulling the white sheets through the wringer that sat on the rim of the washing machine's tub, the sleeves of her tunic rolled above her elbows.

Shabanu took a deep breath and slipped the burqa over her head, adjusting it so the embroidered square through which she could barely see was in place over her eyes. Very little air seeped in, and Shabanu tried to steady her breathing to a low, shallow rhythm. In the damp monsoon heat, the musty cloth was almost suffocating, but she thought that freedom had never smelled so sweet.

Shabanu had learned to walk so silently on the rooftop itwas a habit. Even she could not hear her footfalls as she crept down the stairs—only the occasional swish of the fabric of her burqa was audible in the narrow back staircase. She paused in the shadow of the doorway and listened for sounds from the courtyard. Samiya's sweet, high voice sang out from the laundry, and Shabanu crossed to the gate, fit the key into the lock, and turned it.

As she pulled the heavy gate toward her, its hinges screeched like a hawk flying low over the Cholistan Desert in search of prey, nearly stopping her heart. Instead of waiting to see whether Samiya would come running from the laundry, she slipped through the gate and relocked it, twisting the key until she heard the bolt slide home, then ran down the alley, her heart pounding.

She slowed to a fast walk as she rounded the corner at the busy thoroughfare that led into the bazaar. It was choked with handcarts loaded down with bolts of cloth being pulled by human beasts of burden, motor scooters spewing blue smoke from their exhaust pipes, donkey carts piled high with copper pots, shoppers making their way to the produce alley.

Shabanu wandered among the spice merchants, squeezing past great pyramids of amber powdered cumin and red ground chilies and green mounds of cardamom pods, breathing in the spice scents and listening to the bartering of shoppers and the profane banter of the shopkeepers. She watched ragged boys dart in and out among the stalls of the fruit vendors, stealing hard green amrud and shining red pomegranates.

She was intoxicated by the noise and dust and activity of the bazaar, more aware than she had been in ten years of the breath passing in and out through her nose and mouth, the steady beating of her heart, and the rushing of blood through her veins. It was almost as if she had been barely alive all that time, as if her body had put itself into a semiconscious state of hibernation from which she was just now awakening.

She was careful to watch the time, and even so, barely made it home before Samiya came in from the market. She was asleep long before Selma returned from the banquet at Mahsood's house at Number 5 Anwar Road.

In the middle of the night Shabanu slipped back down the stairway to the gate and oiled the hinges so that the next day when she let herself out again it would sigh softly, just as she sighed going back to sleep.

Copyright © 2008 by Suzanne Fisher Staples

Meet the Author

SUZANNE FISHER STAPLES, a former UPI correspondent, is the author of many acclaimed books for young readers, including the Newbery Honor Book Shabanu; Shiva's Fire, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year; and Under the Persimmon Tree, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults and an ALA Notable Book. She lives in Nicholson, Pennsylvania.

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The House of Djinn 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book follows off from the books shabanu and haveli, but if you have read the books, you may be disappointed in finding that this book's main character is no longer shabanu, but her daughter mumtaz. it captures the readers attention well, and i recomend it completely. If you haven't read shabanu or haveli, i would also recomend reading those first. it was a great book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
seriously can't wait for it to come out!!! i love Haveli and i couldn't stand the total cliffhanger. i want to read it sooooo bad