Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Golem and the Jinni

The Golem and the Jinni
In The Golem and the Jinni, a chance meeting between mythical beings takes readers on a dazzling journey through cultures in turn-of-the-century New York.

Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life to by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic and dies at sea on the voyage from Poland. Chava is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York harbor in 1899.

Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire born in the ancient Syrian desert, trapped in an old copper flask, and released in New York City, though still not entirely free

Ahmad and Chava become unlikely friends who share a mystical connection. Marvelous and compulsively readable, Helene Wecker's debut novel The Golem and the Jinni weaves strands of Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature, historical fiction and magical fable into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale.


Helene Wecker's gorgeous writing, careful research, and clear passion for folklore and literature make this an enchanting, intriguing read.   She does a wonderful job of presenting supernatural creatures of folklore as main characters without making anyone into an idealized character.  Everyone in the story is refreshingly human, with merits, faults, worries, and humor.  The backdrop of turn-of-the-century Manhattan is beautifully rendered, and even those unfamiliar with the setting will not be lost.  The author embraces many cultures and sources of folklore and folds them together in a way that is both honest and refreshing.  This book is reminiscent of the tales of Isaac Bashevis Singer and Scheherazade, with a twist of Jane Addams thrown in for good measure.  An absolute "must read."

Spoilers:  This reads at times like a young adult book, but the ghastly conditions of New York City tenement houses in 1899 are described in some detail.  There are scenes of married and premarital sex, prostitution, murder, death from wasting illness, and use of both alcohol and drugs.   It also deals with concepts of faith, religion, apostasy, reincarnation, and eternal damnation - although not in a preachy way.

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