‘The Haunting of Hajji Hotak’ by Jamil Jan Kochai

Having just finished The People in the Trees, I’m wary of stories that end with an announcement of love. They’re out to get you. More specifically, they’re out to scar you. And although Kochai’s narrator is a vaguely menacing, unseen presence in the life of one family, whose members battle paranoia (is it though?) and the debilitating pain of both lived and inherited trauma, a love does indeed emerge, and certainly must be spoken. 

But unlike stories within the whole ‘trauma-plot’ discourse, every beat of this story is syncopated in a way that loosens the reader’s grip on what they’re seeing, and – more importantly – how they’re seeing. That device does something really interesting to the reader, which I won’t give away here, but I’ll say that ‘The Haunting of Hajji Hotak’ should be required text for anyone trying to break out of their own patterns; both in terms of crafting fiction, and in terms of relating empathetically to strangers.

First published in The New Yorker, 8 Nov 2021, and available to subscribers to read here

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