The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker


This book is a bit out of the ordinary for me. Well, I guess I read almost anything so not really, but unless I’ve been asked to read something I won’t usually choose a book like this. I blame it on The Line, stepping out of my comfort zone to try that caused this, but I’m really glad it did. So, here’s a little blurb:

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. ~From Goodreads

Needless to say, it’s a clash of worlds times three. I did hear a great deal of complaints about this book, because of all the history in it, or that it was just plain boring. I, of course, disagree. I will say it’s not written in the classic “Western” (as in civilization) style that people from the U.S. or even Europe are used to. By this I mean that time is not just getting from one point to the next, it is cyclical. There are side stories that you will go back and forth between,  and to enjoy this book, you’re going to have to enjoy them. They do have a point, and they will come together at the end. It can be hard to appreciate if you aren’t used to it, but I think it’s worth it. If you don’t like learning a little something, you shouldn’t read this book.

So, the setting is unique for a fantasy book, though I’m beginning to question what is supposed to go into the fantasy genre, because I want several books that are out on the fiction shelves to be in the fantasy section. Anyways, it is set in 1899 in New York just as it beginning. It truly a celebration of the melting pot that our country was meant to be; how else would a golem and a jinni meet after all? It is bustling, it is dirty, it is beautiful. It makes you wonder how could all these cultures exist in one city, but they do. It was an interesting setting, obviously.

Now the characters. I love them both and hate them both. The author definitely does not put rose-colored glasses on for the reader. You can see the characters strangely human flaws as well as their strengths. It is unusual how relatable, and ultimately human, that the golem and the jinni are. You will want to strangle both of them at some point in the book, but at the same time you empathize with them and want to see them happy more than anything, though they are definitely flawed.  They are quite a contrast to one another: Chava, the golem, is the epitome of modesty, while Ahmad, the jinni, is an arrogant jerk at times.

I don’t have much to say about the plot. You don’t really realize what it is until the end because you’ve become immersed in their everyday lives. This definitely isn’t just another light read. You might have to work at it,  but enjoy it. It is well written and interesting and is a good choice for fantasy lovers who have a soft spot for history!

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