The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker is the story of, well, a golem and a jinni who find themselves in turn of the century New York. Recently awoken/liberated respectively they must find their feet in and adapt to the New World while avoiding threats which could destroy them.
First of all, I would like to say just how much I loved this story. I loved the characters, the narrative, the setting. What I found rather interesting was the fact that, had the golem and the jinni been just ordinary immigrants instead of supernatural creatures, 80% of the story could have remained unchanged. It is much more a story of new immigrants to the States adapting to their new lives and country and friendships formed than a fantastical tale of the supernatural. That is not to say that the element of the fantastical did not add an extra layer of depth to the tale, but it is well grounded in reality.
What I liked
The characters. All the characters were beautifully written, from our two protagonists down to “Ice Cream Salah.” Due to circumstances beyond their control, the golem and the jinni find themselves alone in turn of the century New York and have to fit in with the local community to survive. Their personalities match what you might expect from immigrants from Poland and Syria. Our golem is obedient, modest, faithful and curious. This is presumably what is considered culturally normal for a young Polish woman of the time, based on the desires of her first master.
The jinn on the other hand comes across as a rather chauvinistic, arrogant man who is used to a far higher status that that which he finds as a lowly Syrian immigrant in New York.
This characterisation colours their actions and their thoughts, which is why the novel could easily work as the tale of two immigrants. They even have the golem go through Ellis Island to cement further the immigrant theme.
I also enjoyed the developing relationship between the golem and jinni and the way that all the characters are interconnected.
The narrative. The narrative is rather slow paced, concentrating on character and setting development. Although this is primarily an immigrant story, that’s not to say I didn’t really enjoy the fantasy element. Even Sophia’s arc, while it contains an element of the supernatural, can be likened a similar, more realistic situation, and her reactions are very believable.
The setting. Wecker describes turn of the century New York and the various subcultures (Syrian, Yiddish) living there wonderfully. I felt as if I were walking the streets with the golem and the jinni.
The foreshadowing. This is most notable in the case of the golem. Right from the beginning of the book the reader is made aware of the threats of and to our golem. The fact that the instrument of the golem’s destruction is out there in the world adds a nice layer of narrative tension to the novel. The idea of the golem herself’s being dangerous is nicely handled. When it is first brought up, it creates a very interesting dichotomy. From what we know of the golem at that time, she seems the very opposite of dangerous. She is shy, obedient and desperate to please – the very essence of non-threatening. It does lead the reader to question why her creator believes her to be so dangerous.
The narration. The narration is handled by George Guidall and it was very enjoyable. His slow, easy way of talking made me feel as if he were reading me a bedtime story.
Here is a sample
What I didn’t like
There was nothing I didn’t enjoy about The Golem and the Jinni. It’s definitely worth picking up.
I gave The Golem and the Jinni five stars out of five