The all-knowing djinn of ancient lore can adopt many forms, but there are times when it chooses the limits of one body, one life. In this bewitching first novel, a djinn takes up residence in a restlessly brilliant woman, guiding her choices in life and love as she chases the satisfaction that eludes her—from a cloistered Florentine boarding school to the glamour of a Milan fashion house to a life beyond her means in 1990s Manhattan. She is as skilled at observing the worlds she moves through as her djinn is skilled at observing her, but an ever-growing self-awareness does not help her to realize her heart’s desires. That is, until the wise djinn puts her in the path of the Princess: imperious octogenarian and mother of a man she can never fully possess. With Diary of Djinn, Alhadeff has given us a novel of playful intelligence and insight, and a poignant testimony to love’s unpredictable unfolding.
Alhadeff's debut novel is a dreamy, disjointed affair about a 30-something woman working for fashion designers in Milan and New York in the 1980s and '90s. The novel's quirky conceit is that a djinn a roaming spirit inhabits her body and determines the course of her life. The unnamed narrator was born in Egypt to a peripatetic, secular Jewish family, and grew up in Japan and Italy. She recalls the rigid Florentine convent school of her adolescent years, but mostly describes her adult life as an assistant to a tyrannical clothing designer in Milan. The narrator has contempt for the world of fashion, but is drawn to the dinner parties, first-class travel, chic settings and easy money, all of which she relates in loving detail. For a long time, her romantic life is limited to the futile pursuit of gay men. Eventually, she moves to New York and meets Hare, a married man and an aloof, distant lover who gives her the space to try her hand at writing. She also finds herself taking care of and befriending his mother, a flamboyant woman in her 80s whom the narrator refers to as "the princess," who goes through a series of brutal radiation treatments for cancer. The narrator's reflections are sometimes witty and engaging, sometimes mannered. The djinn's voice occasionally intrudes into the narrative ("You may think it a strange choice to have thrown her into the world of fashion..."), without adding much to the story. Readers' enjoyment of this uneven first novel will depend on how closely they identify with the situations of its central character.