Once again, I find myself stepping outside my usual reading zone. This time, it’s to read THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI by Helene Wecker. And, why, you might find yourself asking, am I doing this? Well, the answer is simple: I absolutely loved THE NIGHT CIRCUS by Erin Morgenstern, and THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI is said to be in the same vein.
Helene Wecker’s first novel is a magical tale of two mythical creatures. The year is 1899. The city is New York City. The golem’s name is Chara; made of clay as a wife for an unappealing man in Poland, she ends up on the streets of New York, alone and without a master. The jinni is Ahmad: a being of fire born in the ancient Syrian desert, he’s been kept inside an old copper flask for a thousand years. These two unlikely creatures meet in New York City; both are struggling to make sense of their new lives.
A cast of likeable characters accompanies both Chara and Ahmad as they find their way around the city. The rabbi that takes Chara in once he recognizes her for what she is. The tinsmith who hires Ahmad to help him in his shop when he realizes Ahmad is a jinn.
Now, if you’re like me, you probably don’t know much about golems or jinnis. I found out that a golem can be brought to life with one special set of words created by her maker. Yet another set of words can be used to destroy her when she becomes a threat. The jinni can be destroyed by water.
It would be easy to just go ahead and tell the entire story. But that would ruin the reading. It is a great story to tell. And your listeners will find the telling both fun and smart.
It’s really hard to believe this is a first novel. Wecker goes out on a limb to show us what it is really like to be human.
Most of this rich, entertaining story takes place in Manhattan’s Little Syria, a place not often mentioned in fiction. Wecker outdoes herself bringing the flavor of the area to the written page. History is learned, and philosophy is told.
Ahmad’s back story is told in snippets throughout. It gives much thought to the days of The Arabian Nights. Told in bright and fascinating prose, you’ll find your imagination popping and snapping along as you take in this starry story.
Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. Relax. Sit back. Sip a cup of tea. And escape to the allusive life of the almost human creatures in Helen Wecker’s THE GOLEM AND THE JINNI.
My galley arrived compliments of Harper Collins Publishers. Thanks so much!