The Golem and the Jinni is Helene Wecker’s first novel which I found surprising because it is such a beautiful and well written book. I was attracted to this book firstly because lots of people were raving about it on the web and secondly because of its lovely cover. Sometimes you’ll read the blurb of a book and think what a great story this has to be…often you’ll be disappointed but in this case you definitely won’t be.
“Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. When her master, the husband who commissioned her, dies at sea on the voyage from Poland, she is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York in 1899. Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop. Though he is no longer imprisoned, Ahmad is not entirely free – an unbreakable band of iron binds him to the physical world. The Golem and the Jinni is their magical, unforgettable story; unlikely friends whose tenuous attachment challenges their opposing natures – until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful threat will soon bring Chava and Ahmad together again, challenging their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice.” (more on GoodReads)
I loved this book and I found the story so unique and interesting. I really enjoyed following Chava the golem and Ahmad the jinni around 19th century New York, exploring it for the first time along with them. This book is full of lovely little details about the destination of many; New York, and their homelands; Europe, Syria, about the people themselves and their cultures. All these details about what led so many people to emigrate and how they survive in this new world. These details form the colourful backstory and set the stage for a whole cast of great characters.
I really enjoyed all these historical details together with the fantastical elements of the golem, a jewish folkloric creature, the jinni, an arabic folkloric creature, and the wizard that brings them together in a twist of events I won’t reveal. What made this story really special though is that none of this is overdone. The historical element is just enough to set the scene and let you get a feel for the place without boring you to death, the fantastical element is only present in so much that you can experience what Chava and Ahmad feel as not only outsiders in a new world but as beings outside of the human experience.
There are also some wonderful passages that deal with Ahmad’s past in the Syrian desert which I enjoyed for this blend of historical and fantastical detail. It’s this blend that Wecker does so well I think that made me connect with this book so much – every moment is believable and so great to read. I highly recommend this book, I loved it.