The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

The Golem and the Jinni is a 486 page book published in April 2013 by Harper. I would call it a magical realism story, but Goodreads suggests historical fiction and mythology, which also seem fitting.

The Golem and the Jinni CoverI’m also going to copy the Goodreads blurb about the two main characters, because it describes them so succinctly:

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 plot covers their travels across the ocean and their strange, hidden lives once they reach their destination–New York. The Golem lives in a Polish settlement of sorts, and is taken in by a rabbi who tries to teach her how to control her strange power of being able to “hear” peoples’ desires and the compulsion to help them. Meanwhile, the Jinni works with a tinsmith, using his natural gift of immense body heat (he is naturally a formless body of fire) to mend pots and pans. Both characters feel trapped in their current lives, and seek ways to release their energy.

Once the characters meet, the story expands greatly. Because neither can confide in most humans, they find solace and great friendship in their mythological similarities. Wecker uses the two nearly opposite beings to flesh out their characters and to explore many philosophical quandaries. This lends a profound feeling to the story, helping it rise above what seems like a “normal” historical fiction in my mind.

I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed a book so much when I did not like the main protagonist. Because I sympathized with the Jinni’s free spirit, I was often annoyed by Chava’s innate obedience and quiet personality. Even though I didn’t like her character that much, Wecker manages to balance her out with the dominant willed Jinni. It was that balance, and the tales of their origins, that really kept me interested in this novel.

While the immigrant aspect was fascinating, and adjusting to a new world was interesting to read about, it was the unlikely friendship between the Golem and the Jinni and the rich stories of the Jinni’s past that were the most exciting to read about. However, this book is one of the most scintillating and magical (in the way of friendship, not “actual” magic) historical fictions I have ever read.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. pandaduh
    Feb 04, 2014 @ 18:40:03

    I reviewed this book too, but was left a little disappointed by it. But I’m glad to see others reading it!


    • Hannah Bassett
      Feb 06, 2014 @ 09:00:39

      I enjoyed the reading of it, but the end left me wanting. I liked the premise. What was it that disappointed you?


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