Religion provides one of our greatest and oldest sources of storytelling. When elements from these stories are revitalized and brought back to life in a new and exciting context, wonderful things happen.
In Helene Wecker’s first book, she combines Islamic myths and Kabbalistic Jewish mysticism to create two new characters who interact in a unique way. The Jinni is an elemental creature from Islamic lore said to be made of fire, who possesses great magical powers. The golem is a creature from Jewish lore made of clay in order to servant to its master.
In this book, a jinni, Ahmad, and a golem, Chava, both end up in New York City during the 1940s. They are divided by their perceived ethnicities and live in the city’s Little Syria and Jewish neighborhoods respectively.
Ultimately, they find each other and recognize the other for being different from the humans they live amongst on a daily basis. They fight to maintain their friendship despite their opposing natures, while also learning to deal with very human problems such as loss, faith, community, and love.
As this is the author’s first book, there are a few problems with the narrative. At times the story feels hefty, weighed down by excessive information that distracts from the plot and does not add to the story.
One of the best things about this novel is its use of multiple narratives. Not only does the reader experience the story from the point of view of the titular main characters, but also from the viewpoints of a cast of colorful and interesting characters who interact with them. An aging Rabbi, a compassionate waitress, and a madman named Ice Cream Saleh are just a few of the characters who are a true joy to read about.
While this book is not perfect, it is unique and charming. If you’re looking for something to read on a rainy day, The Golem and the Jinni is well worth the effort.
The RedEyed Reader