In The Golem and the Jinni, a chance meeting between mythical beings takes readers on a dazzling journey through cultures in turn-of-the-century New York.
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 young America, during the big heyday of Ellis Island – two unlikely immigrants find their way to Manhattan, New York. The Golem and the Jinni. So far from the places they originate these two very different creatures are caught up in a human world, the only ones of their kind.
If you were to think: why this book sounds rather somber, you wouldn’t be far from the mark. Indeed it was somber, yet equal parts haunting and beautiful. This isn’t just a story of two fantasy beings but one of self discovery, compassion, learning to adapt, to accept and ultimately to love. This could be the tale of any person who walked off a boat at Ellis Island. They could have felt such things, seen this time and have felt just as alien and isolated, in a land not their own, surrounded by all manner of people they might not understand.
I have never read a book that took place during this time period in American history. Have I read about it in school, yes. Did I find it depressing then? Pretty much. I’ve never really been a fan of history always being more inclined to science fiction and the future. So I have to admit there were parts of this story that were depressing but there was also such a sense of community and support that it couldn’t have been anything other than uplifting.
By mixing two such wonderful creatures into her alternate history fantasy novel, Wecker has given me a new found love for historical fiction. There were the occasional parts that I felt dragged on – but this was due to the wealth of character development and background story that she was building. With that said, readers more inclined to a fast paced read won’t find that here. instead you’ll walk the streets of old New York, time and time again and see the every day lives of the immigrants that helped build the country we now live in.
The Jinni, who takes the name of Ahmad is released by a tinsmith who then takes him on as an apprentice. Used to a life of freedoms he finds his new life to be a prison. He is brash and selfish, rarely thinking beyond himself and his own whims. He knows himself and what he wants but he will discover that perhaps there is more to himself than desire and impulse and that there is much more to humans and others than he ever could have imagined.
While Ahmad has always known who he is for hundreds of years, The Golem, Chava, has only just started her life. Having been created from clay all she knows was that her purpose for being was to serve a master. But when her master leaves her untimely (heck more than untimely lets say hours after her awakening) she has to find her own way (alright with a bit of help) and discover some other meaning to her life than serving others.
When their paths converge they see each in the other something that they both sorely need a confidante and a friend. Reading The Golem and the Jinni was like watching a fantastical historical documentary on the lives and loves of two people you only wish you could have known. I highly recommend it, even to those who wouldn’t normally read this type of novel, this is the one you need to step outside your comfort zone for.
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