My Rating: 7/10
Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life to by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic and dies at sea on the voyage from Poland. Chava is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York harbor in 1899. Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire born in the ancient Syrian desert, trapped in an old copper flask, and released in New York City, though still not entirely free. Ahmad and Chava become unlikely friends and soul mates with a mystical connection. Marvelous and compulsively readable, Helene Wecker’s debut novel The Golem and the Jinni weaves strands of Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature, historical fiction and magical fable, into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale.
A fantasy book club that I take part in chose The Golem and the Jinni for our read this month. I had honestly not heard of it before this.
“All of us are lonely at some point or another, no matter how many people surround us. And then, we meet someone who seems to understand. She smiles, and for a moment the loneliness disappears.”
It is one of those magical novels that pulls you along with a dreamlike tug. This is definitely a slow burning read, quiet in its prose, but it still grabbed my attention. The Golem and the Jinni is a book about finding friendship and love in the most unlikely of places. Wecker takes two mythical characters from different backgrounds and plants them in the same place. Chava and Ahmad realize they have more in common than they originally believed.
We are in for quite a few twists which are packed in mostly at the end of the book. While this didn’t particularly bug me, I think some readers will be put off by how long the storylines took to build upon. The payoff is worth it, but if I had not been listening via audiobook, I might have been tempted to put this down before getting to the areas of action. Nonetheless, this is a poignant, yet triumphant tale of overcoming loneliness and the roles that are set for us.
“We must grow beyond it! Why reinforce our differences, and keep ancient laws, and never know the joy of breaking bread with our neighbors?”
There’s a deeper look at religion and our characters’ relationships to their faiths. The Golem and the Jinni is perfectly steeped in a blend of Syrian and Jewish culture due to the melting pot that is New York. While embracing this, it also questions how we can live so closely to other humans while keeping our lives almost entirely separate from those that don’t share the same way of life. If you are a lover of quiet, fantastical reads, you will enjoy this.