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City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi

4.05  ·  Rating Details  ·  6,383 Ratings  ·  462 Reviews
Sparkling with irrepressible wit, City of Djinns peels back the layers of Delhi's centuries-old history, revealing an extraordinary array of characters along the way-from eunuchs to descendants of great Moguls. With refreshingly open-minded curiosity, William Dalrymple explores the seven "dead" cities of Delhi as well as the eighth city-today's Delhi. Underlying his quest ...more
Paperback, 352 pages
Published March 25th 2003 by Penguin Books (first published September 6th 1993)
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Mark he has lived and worked in Delhi for the past thirty years.
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Riku Sayuj
Nov 12, 2014 Riku Sayuj rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Sandeepan Mondal

City of Djinns: The Reader’s Journey

I started reading The White Mughals sometime in an auto in Lucknow, in 2011. I still remember reading enchantedly of Old Delhi while sitting stuffed inside a crammed "share-auto", dodging the remains of an equally old Lucknow (and close to the pre-Shah Jahani capital, of Agra). I remember missing my stop. I don’t remember when I left off reading it.

Then, recently, I had an argument with a friend about that fiendishly invented TV series/Soap Opera ‘Jodhaa Akb
Dec 11, 2014 Warwick rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Delhi is lucky to have William Dalrymple as a chronicler – not many cities get such exemplary treatment as this. I think I even preferred it to Peter Ackroyd's London: The Biography, just because Ackroyd presents himself as an expert dispensing knowledge, whereas Dalrymple is pure ingénu: curious, open-minded, he allows us to accompany him on his own journey of exploration and discovery which dovetails with the social and historical narratives he uncovers.

For Dalrymple, Delhi is a city of accumu
May 21, 2013 Kalliope rated it really liked it
Shelves: asia, travel, india
This is the perfect read when visiting Delhi.

Written by a Brit, this book is the result of a one year stay in Delhi. It reads as a mixture of memoir, travelogue, history, religion, and myth book.

Its nicest charm is that it conveys, sweetly, the author’s absolute love for the country. The understanding with which he presents his stories becomes contagious and after this relatively short read one feels immersed into the magic and mysteries of India.

I read it while visiting a friend who was also sp
Nov 23, 2015 Caroline rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Caroline by: Kalliope
Shelves: 5-star-books, world
At the still wet-behind-the-ears age of twenty-five, Dalrymple and his wife went to live in Delhi, and this amazing book is the result of his first year in the city.

It is an utter delight from beginning to end. A smorgasbord of historical people and places, myths and facts, festivals and parties, pilgrimages and ancient texts. It is also full of touching examples of everyday life - as Dalrymple explores with a kindly eye, the nooks and crannies of Delhi and its people.

The scope of the book is in
“Some said there were seven dead cities of Delhi and that the current one was the eighth; others counted fifteen or twenty-one. All agreed that the crumbling ruins of these towns were without number. But where Delhi was unique was that, scattered all around the city, there were human ruins too…All the different ages of man were represented in the people of the city. Different millennia co-existed side by side. Minds set in different ages walked the same pavements, drank the same water, returned ...more
russell barnes
Jun 24, 2007 russell barnes rated it liked it
Recommended to russell by: Lucy
Shelves: india, biog
Despite William Dalrymple's deeply upsetting background of being posh, and having wealthy relatives allowing him to potter around ancient castles in Scotland and seemingly taking random years off without having to work, it's a pretty inspiring read.

There's more to Dehli than curry and he picks it apart to reveal the fascinating, multi-layered history beneath the stereotypical surface.

It made me want to seek out the two Eighteenth Century books he used as a guide to learn more. And not only tha
Siddharth Sharma
William Dalrymple embarks upon a journey to unravel the history of Delhi, thus providing the reader with historical perspectives behind various parts of the city- a city which, as a Persian proverb goes, is destined to be lost by whoever who builds it. Set upon a period of a year of his stay in the capital, the narration opens up beautiful aspects of Delhi, including architectures erected in the Mughal phase (Humayun Fort, the Red Fort...), the Tughlaq phase, the British Raj; even dating back to ...more
Jun 12, 2015 Zaki rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'd love to live in Delhi. I'd eat a chicken vindaloo every fucking day, smoke it up with the Sadhus, and see about these ethereal Djinns that rule over the cities unconsciousness.
Jan 29, 2016 Abhishek rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
This book is an encyclopaedia for all common Dilliwalas and any Indian even slightly interested in knowing about Delhi and ancient India. This is what you can call ‘The Discovery of Delhi.’ Partly a travelogue, partly a history book and overall a pleasurable book. Dalrymple provides information not usually found in school history. He starts describing Delhi right from her very birth and the saga continues till the modern times. It is most fascinating when Dalrymple describes an ancient monument ...more
Sudhakar Gupta
Mar 20, 2012 Sudhakar Gupta rated it really liked it
I'm not sure if I can call myself a Delhi-walla after reading City of Djinns. Despite living in Delhi for the past 17 years, I had not known most of the sites mentioned, except on a superficial level.

Delhi today is completely unrecognizable from the beautiful city that it once was. Dalrymple successfully manages to bring to life that old Delhi with all its charms and customs. He employs a rather unusual method, that of going through the history in a reverse chronological order.

Thus we start in
Mar 25, 2010 Jim rated it it was amazing
I first heard about this book as a result of searching eBay for the works of the Scottish writer and poet George Mackay Brown, whose works I collect. I kept running into William Dalrymple's City of Djinns, which Brown is quoted in the accompanying squibs as saying it was his favorite travel book.

Brown was only half right. It is both a travel book and a history at the same time. Under the guise of describing a year in Delhi, Dalrymple also goes back into the history of Delhi, ranging from even be
Oct 05, 2014 Ishi rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Ishi by: Sourabh Bhati
When I was first told of this book, I was skeptical about reading it, as nonfiction is a genre which I had a completely irrational dislike for. I'm glad to say that all my doubts vanished as soon as I read the first page of this book. This made me know the city I've been in forever even better. The many traditions, the ever-changing rulers, the rich history, it all had me awestruck. I was pulled into this book instantly and abandoned all my other "current-reads" for the time being. The picture W ...more
Vikas Lather
Jun 13, 2014 Vikas Lather rated it it was amazing
William Dalrymple is the best travel writer(only exception is V.S.Naipaul)

"In Delhi, right of way belongs to the driver of the largest vehicle", shows he wrote the book with exceptional observation.

Teeth-grinding horror episodes of 84 Sikh riots and his conviction to discovery truth behind the story of Mahabharata capture imagination to seemingly endless degree.

"Delhi ladies very good. Having breasts like mangoes", Second rate filthy expression of Mr Singh(his driver), reflects his playfulness
Sashwati Sanyal
Sep 12, 2007 Sashwati Sanyal rated it did not like it
This is the first of William Dalrymple that i am reading. Having being pushed into it via heavy recommendations, must say that WD fails to inspire.

The book starts with a lot of promise but takes a meandering tone halfway through the narration. Delhi's intriguing past is a delicious topic that more than simply nudges your curiosity but WD is yet to bite a fulsome piece into it.

Here's hoping that the latter half would live upto expectations!
May 25, 2014 Parinita rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a spectacular book! My first Dalrymple and definitely not my last. I've fallen in love with Delhi all over again (which is supposed to be odd behaviour for a true-blue Mumbai girl) and can't wait to visit the city for a longer, more illuminating stay. I'm going to keep an eye out for all his other books.
Dec 24, 2013 William1 rated it it was amazing
Pramod Nair
May 25, 2015 Pramod Nair rated it it was amazing
I was hooked to the works of William Dalrymple from the moment I started reading City Of Djinns. It was in 2004 while browsing through a bookshop that I came across three of the 2004 penguin published Indian editions from the author – ‘City Of Djinns’, ‘The Age of Kali’ and ‘In Xanadu’ and I bought them all. The authors name was slightly familiar from a newspaper article, which I have read a year before about his documentary titled ‘Indian Journeys’ and the news about his then published ‘White M ...more
Mar 07, 2014 Maitrey rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, non-fic
I came into this book as an unabashed fan of William Dalrymple (WD). I think he's a razor-sharp observer who can write hilariously. Combine this with his love for history, assiduous scholarship and great sympathy and fondness for the subjects he writes about, and we have a winner. He's definitely an oasis in the desert that is Indian-history writing.

The City of Djinns trawls through time, peeling away layer by layer the city that is Delhi. Even though the book was written in the late 80s/early 9
Zeeshan Ahmed
Apr 08, 2014 Zeeshan Ahmed rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the finest books I have ever read. A book on my beloved city Delhi. A book that I fell in love with before even reading it, and that love has only gotten stronger. Mr. Dalrymple explores Delhi. Meets the ghosts of the past, explores the ruins, meets sufi dervishes, fossils still breathing and so on. He explores the Delhi that was once an ancient city, then became a capital full of riches. Riches that weren't only confined to material. Riches that were of intellect, literature and poetry. ...more
Kislay Verma
Sep 26, 2012 Kislay Verma rated it really liked it
From SolomonSays:

William Dalrymple's City of Djinns: A year in Delhi is a perfect amalgamation of an informative travel guide, a beautiful retelling of the city's history and a very personal story...Although the book describes just one year of his stay in Delhi, the content has been drawn from the experiences he had over a couple of years. Dalrymple's love and understanding of the city is clearly visible through the myriad stories woven together seamlessly into the narration. He paints such a li
Pushkar Srigyan
May 14, 2009 Pushkar Srigyan rated it liked it
First time I find out that reading history can be so interesting . I have never much interest in monuments and parks. But of course the unbiased descriptions of incidents and actual research had made this book very addictive and once you start then you also feel the same way as author feels. Basically william has written in travel book style so you feel the same way as you are also traveling those places . Whenever he finds out a little about anything , we also start filling curious about it and ...more
Jan 13, 2011 Raghu rated it it was amazing

'City of Djinns: a year in Delhi" is probably the finest book on the city of Delhi covering mostly its recent history of 400 years. It is lovingly and passionately researched and is embellished with endearing encounters. The author spends a whole year in Delhi in 1989 and researches for four more years to produce this gem of a book. It was of particular interest to me as I lived in Delhi for five years in the mid- 1970s. This book teaches me how little I knew of the city and its history. The aut
gurpreet kaur
Dec 17, 2012 gurpreet kaur rated it really liked it

With its rich cultural heritage Delhi has intrigued the interest of many a historian and traveller. William Dalrymple has made an interesting attempt at unravelling the history of this age-old city. A dedicated effort to research and sketch the portrait of a city disjointed in time, a city which has managed to preserve many varied centuries, frozen in time, at different areas.
Beginning with recent and familiar events the author goes backwards to the cavernous chambers of myth and legend holdin
Jan 22, 2016 Dеnnis rated it really liked it
Between the twenties and the forties, Iris Portal’s youth had been spent in that colonial Delhi

‘In retrospect,’ I said. ‘Do you think British rule was justified?’

‘....But on balance I think you must never take land away from a people. A people’s land has a mystique. You can go and possibly order them about for a bit, perhaps introduce some new ideas, build a few good buildings, but then in the end you must go away and die in Cheltenham.’ Iris sighed. ‘And that, of course, is exactly what we did.
Aug 08, 2012 Parambir rated it really liked it
An excellent book both for people who know Delhi as well as those who want to visit it.....I loved it coz I could identify myself with Delhi- having lived as well as having visited it extensively over the last 45 years......and yet there are so many places, mentioned in the book, that one has not heard of or this context I personally feel that a few photographs, mentioned by Dalrymple himself, of certain places, which still exist, of that time would have added to the value/appeal ...more
Jun 01, 2012 Bigsna rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
What an absolutely enchanting introduction to Delhi - the city I have spent close to 6 years in and I now know of the layers of history that lie silently, waiting to be rediscovered and revisited.

The book comes to me at a time when I couldn't have appreciated it more. Also a chance to see most of it come alive as I explore the ruins, relics and realms that it has to offer.
Even though the book was written 20 years ago - a lot from it remains relevant and thankfully existent to this day.
So many f
Mar 23, 2011 Dpdwyer rated it really liked it
Newly married, the author moved to Delhi in the early 90s, and has lived there since. This is an account of his first year. Along with chronicling the day to day joys and absurdities of living in India, he delves into documents about seven earlier incarnations of Delhi going back millenia. Diligently he locates these past ruins, often just a crumbling wall now incorporated into the home of an oblivious slum dweller. I was particularly taken with his accounts of early British traders, whom he cal ...more
Jenny Brown
Jun 23, 2011 Jenny Brown rated it liked it
I wish there had been more Delhi and less history. The author's scholarship is, as usual, impressive, but the city he is actually living in rarely comes alive as he describes its past in great detail, though at times with what seemed to me to be the introduction of stereotypical people chosen to illustrate points he is trying to make.

Indeed, all the of the people he encounters seem like stage characters. Perhaps Dalrymple's youth at the time he wrote this book (he was barely 25) and his own Bri
May 17, 2012 Priya added it
It takes some time indeed to settle into this city, for you think there is no flavor and everything is too loud and boisterous. Quite true. But equally true is the spirit of city that exits as glimpse, just like the encounter or the imagination of it ( say at Nizamuddin) or even the glimpse of where the it all began ..
i love Delhi. And this book articulates the reasons for me .

To all who are new to the city - this book deserves a chance if you are already disillusioned with the big city's exis
May 28, 2015 Bhavika rated it it was amazing
There is always more to Delhi than it meet the eyes. City of Djinns attempts to see the often unseen. For those who have always been fascinated by the city’s past, this is a must read.
This story of Delhi begins with the 1984 riots and then takes us back to 1947, a year that changed the face of Delhi, the way it has done to perhaps none other city. He juxtaposes the grand old aristocratic dowager with her nouveau-riche heiress. The nostalgia of a past we know so little about is evident in his po
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William Dalrymple was born in Scotland and brought up on the shores of the Firth of Forth. He wrote the highly acclaimed bestseller In Xanadu when he was twenty-two. The book won the 1990 Yorkshire Post Best First Work Award and a Scottish Arts Council Spring Book Award; it was also shortlisted for the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize. In 1989 Dalrymple moved to Delhi where he lived for six year ...more
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“Partition was a total catastrophe for Delhi,’ she said. ‘Those who were left behind are in misery. Those who were uprooted are in misery. The Peace of Delhi is gone. Now it is all gone.” 18 likes
“On the road, as in many other aspects of Indian life, Might is Right.” 4 likes
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