Of Clay and Fire -Review of "The Golem and The Jinni" by Helene Wecker
By: Alison Norquist/ Arab America Contributing Writer
The Golem and The Jinni follows two mythological beings who struggle to appear human while retaining their true selves in early 1900s New York City. Chava the golem, a being made of clay brought to life by Kaballah magic, was created for a man who wanted the perfect wife as he made his way to America from Germany. Brought to life at sea, her master soon dies from a ruptured appendix. Suddenly, she is able to hear the desires and thoughts of those around her. Overwhelmed by the commotion and unaware of the social norms, she is soon in trouble when she tries to feed a starving child from a street cart without paying. Saved by an old rabbi, Chava is taught the nuances of being a human woman.
At the same time in Little Syria, a copper flask that was handed down for generations is brought to a tinsmith for repairs. As he works out the dents and scratches, he releases a jinni. Shocked at this discovery, the tinsmith takes advantage of his ability to shape metal with a skill that no human could ever master. Taking the name Ahmad, the jinni becomes a citizen of the bustling community of Little Syria under the guise of being a Bedouin immigrant. Though he is praised by all for his ability to create beautiful works of art from iron and tin, he is discontent with his imprisoned life as a human. He dreams of his glass palace hidden deep in the desert and is haunted by the memories of a girl that died because of him over a thousand years ago.
Chava takes a chance to walk around New York City one night and she meets Ahmad on one of his nightly walks. They see each other for who they really are rather than the carefully constructed guises that they have crafted in order to hide. They begin a cautious friendship that often puts them at odds with one another due to their natures of service and freedom. Ahmad and Chava also form friendships with the people that surround their daily lives, which often makes Ahmad feel that he is losing his true self.
However, the man who created Chava and imprisoned the jinni in a past life is determined to use their powers to find immortality. The friends that they have made since being thrust into humanity are threatened. It is now up to the impossible friends to defeat the mysterious man who will stop at nothing to become eternal. Defeating him will come at a great cost, but are they willing to pay it?
The Golem and The Jinni is a fantastic story of humanity, friendship, and magic. Chava and Ahmad are opposing but have oddly complimenting personalities. This leads to intriguing debates about what it means to be a good human between them. The depiction of Little Syria in the 1900s brings the community to life with characters that help Ahmad learn what it is to be both a jinni and a human. The characters highlight Wecker’s ability to add sensory information without making her prose overdone marks her as a great writer with experience far beyond most debut authors. This is a must-read and at less than 500 pages, it leaves the reader hungry for more. Wecker released another volume of the impossible friends, The Hidden Palace, in 2021.
About The Author
Helene Wecker’s first novel, The Golem and the Jinni, was awarded the Mythopoeic Award for Adult Literature, the VCU Cabell Award for First Novel, and the Harold U. Ribalow Prize, and was nominated for a Nebula Award and a World Fantasy Award. A Midwest native, she holds a B.A. in English from Carleton College and an M.F.A. in Fiction Writing from Columbia University. Her work has appeared in literary journals such as Joyland and Catamaran, as well as the fantasy anthology The Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories. She currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and children.
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