A Jewish immigrant to America needs a wife, but he’s never had any luck with women, so he commissions a golem – an immensely strong creature made of clay that desires nothing but to fulfill her master’s whims. However, he dies on the voyage across the Atlantic, shortly after bringing the golem to life, leaving her utterly lost when she arrives in New York. Meanwhile, while repairing a family heirloom, a tinsmith in the Syrian neighbourhood of New York accidentally releases a jinni who has been asleep for a thousand years. The jinni is furious at being trapped in human form and confused by the completely alien world that surrounds him. In a chance encounter, these two beings from completely different worlds recognise each other for what they are and form a strong friendship.
The Golem and the Jinni is Helene Wecker’s debut novel and it is charming. The two protagonists are extremely compelling, both separately and as a contrast to each other. Chava, the golem, is conditioned to be obedient, but she was also made to be curious and intelligent, and without a master, her curiosity leads her to discover her own individuality. Ahmad, the jinni, has spent hundreds of years answering to no one but his own whims, and he is slowly driving himself crazy having to care about what other people think, since he is without the powers that he’s used to having. They make a perfect counterpoint to each other, and their lives end up being more entwined than they realise.
Wecker really brings turn-of-the-century New York to life – the different neighbourhoods and cultures, and the realities and promise of being a new immigrant. Although, places and streets are thrown into the story with minimal explanation at times, and a map would’ve been helpful to visualise some of Ahmad’s nighttime wandering.
The supporting cast is not quite as captivating as the titular duo, but how can they be? There are some pretty memorable characters in there, though, and not just from the Syrian and Jewish neighbourhoods.The constantly exasperated tinsmith Arbeely (not that I blame him for the exasperation), the kind rabbi Avram Meyer, the slightly desperate do-gooder Michael Levy, the possessed man-of-science Mahmoud Saleh, and many more. These characters are just as complex as the protagonists, and they all end up in very different places by the end of the book.
I’ve barely touched upon the plot, but rest assured that there is one, and it is very well-done. I was worried that this book would be too literary for my tastes (I’m a unabashed genre fantasy reader), but I was not bored for a second. The pacing is great and the book really builds up as the truth gets harder to hide, and it ends just right.
I think both genre and non-genre fans will really enjoy this book, which is a rare thing. Highly recommended!
Note: I received a review copy of The Golem and the Jinni from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest opinion. See more details and a full schedule of the book tour here.
P.S. In case you’re wondering where I’ve been, I was on vacation in my hometown in India, and now I’m busy packing for a move to Ohio in mid-June. I have a few reviews and an interview pretty much ready to go, though, and I’ve kept up with my reading, so expect more posts soon-ish.
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
Harper, 2013 | Buy the book
I received a free review copy of this book from the publisher or author.