Book Review

The Golem And The Jinni

The Golem and the Jinni

  • Author: Helene Wecker
  • Genre: Fantasy
  • Publication Date: April 23, 2013
  • Publisher: Harper
  • Series: The Golem and the Jinni #1

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

CONTENT WARNING: violence, death, grief, murder, enslavement, miscarriage, death of a parent, suicide

Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life by a strange man who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic. Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire, born in the ancient Syrian Desert. Trapped in an old copper flask by a Bedouin wizard centuries ago, he is released accidentally by a tinsmith in a Lower Manhattan shop.

Struggling to make their way in 1899 New York, the Golem and the Jinni try to fit in with their immigrant neighbors while masking their true selves. Meeting by chance, they become unlikely friends whose tenuous attachment challenges their opposing natures, until the night a terrifying incident drives them back into their separate worlds. But a powerful menace will soon bring the Golem and the Jinni together again, threatening their existence and forcing them to make a fateful choice.

Marvelous and compulsively readable, The Golem and the Jinni weaves strands of folk mythology, historical fiction, and magical fable into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale.

As part of our ongoing monthly buddy reads, this was our pick for February’s buddy read with Becky @ Becky’s Book Blog. And while it was kind of a strange book discussion that we wound up having, I’m so glad that I read it with her, because we ultimately had some thoughts to share with each other. Don’t worry—you’ll get to hear all about it! Both of us had heard nothing but positive feedback about this book, so we were excited to jump in.

To start out with, Wecker devotes a lot of time to developing the setting and fleshing out the characters. I’m talking about a LOT. She doesn’t just describe turn of the century Manhattan, she almost makes it feel like a character in it’s own right, which anyone who has ever spent time in Manhattan at any period of time can tell you is right on point. In 1899, there was a big distinction between the neighborhoods, and people tended to only live with people with similar backgrounds. The immigrant neighborhoods contained everything a person ever needed within them, allowing them to stay within a microcosm of their home country, as shown by the Jewish neighborhood and the area known as Little Syria. 

We not only get to know Chava and Ahmad, but the people who surround them. Side characters are fully developed, and never just feel like they’re tossed in there. We get to see flashes of their lives, and in some cases, their history and current situation. But the most interesting characters by far were the Golem and the Jinni themselves. I found it extremely interesting that despite their names, they were most often referred to by “the Golem and the Jinni.” This felt like an intentional choice, perhaps because this is who they essentially were, rather than the names that were given to them. 

Chava, as a golem, was made of clay. She embodies the characteristics you’d expect—loyal, steadfast, strong, and sturdy. Ahmad, as a jinni, was a creature of fire. He embodies similar characteristics—passionate, temperamental, impulsive, and charismatic. But as their paths cross, we start to realize that each of them influences the other, and their personalities fill in the gaps that the other has. I loved watching their connection evolve, and seeing how they relate to each other. But they’re struggling against their basic natures: a jinni isn’t made to stay in one place, and a golem is designed for mindless destruction.

“‘Once a golem develops a taste for destruction,’ the old rabbi said, ‘little can stop it save the words that destroy it. Not all golems are as crude or stupid as this one, but all share the same essential nature. They are tools of man, and they are dangerous. Once they have disposed of their enemies they will turn on their masters.’”

The last quarter of the book was faster paced and intriguing. It kept me reading and I couldn’t put the book down because I wanted to find out what was going to happen next. While the story wraps up relatively neatly, there’s a few strings left hanging that make me want to pick up the next book in the series without feeling shortchanged about the ending. Overall, this was a fantastic foray into the folklore of two related yet very different cultures, and it was done beautifully.

People who have sat around with me while I’m reading, especially when there’s a surprising reveal, a shocking plot twist, or an unexpected event often look up in alarm when I gasp audibly. The gasp factor is directly related to the number of times I audibly gasp during a reading, and there isn’t an upper limit.

Gasp Factor: 8

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