Book Review: The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker


Rating: 5 / 5

Chava is a golem, made of clay, and made to have a master.  Her master, however, died on the ship over from Poland to America, and Chava finds herself alone with in New York City, with no where to go and nobody to turn to for help.  Ahmad is a jinni, a being made of fire, and after spending thousands of years locked up, has finally been set free by an unknowing tinsmith in New York City.  The Golem and the Jinni is the tale of Chava and Ahmad, their lives separately and their adventure together when their paths cross.

The Golem and the Jinni is a difficult book to review because there is so much to talk about between the plot and philosophical questions Wecker poses.  The plot of the novel is superb; Wecker reins the reader in from the very first page and doesn’t let go.  Both Chava and Ahmad have challenges navigating the human world.  Chava was created to serve the needs of her master, and because of that, is finely attuned to the thoughts and desires of those around her.  Lost in a new city, Rabbi Meyer saves her, becoming a father-figure to Chava.  He knows her secret and helps her acclimate to being amongst humans.

Ahmad is the other protagonist in The Golem and the Jinni.  Jinnis roam freely in Syria, but Ahmad has no idea how he came to be locked in copper flask for a thousand years.  Where he is from, jiniis and human coexist, but are wary of one another.  Arbeely, a local tinsmith, has accidentally freed Ahmad while repairing the flask, and is tasked with housing Ahmad and showing him that humans are not necessary the enemy.  But like Chava, Ahmad’s true identity must be kept a secret.

Although it seems like Chava and Ahmad arbitrarily meet on the streets of New York City, their pasts are interlocked. While Chava is ‘born’ during the passage from Poland to America and therefore has little history, Ahmad’s history is rich and epic.  The Golem and the Jinni bounces between various characters, and bounces between the past and the present.  The majority of the novel is character introduction and backgrounds, and so the story flows from one character to another.  It seems like it would be easy to confuse the various subplot, yet each is individually compelling and memorable; it is so easy to get lost in The Golem and the Jinni.

This debut novel by Helene Wecker is a tour de force; it has mysticism, mythology, folklore, and action.  The Golem and the Jinni is original and finely crafted novel.  The plot is superb, and makes the reader think about the price of freedom, what it means to be happy, humanity, culture, family, love, and the meaning of life.  Helene Wecker’s prose is absolutely beautiful.  The characters were well developed, and the story moves at a fast pace, but doesn’t leave the reader behind.  No matter what I say about this book, I cannot do it justice.  This book is one of my favorites this year and I highly recommend; especially as a book to get lost in during the dreary winter weather.

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