Monday, February 10, 2014

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

The Golem and the Jinni   A creepy man asks a disreputable rabbi to make him a wife.  Like God creating Eve (or Adam), the rabbi makes a woman out of clay.  The creepy man plans to take his bride, still a lifeless creature of clay, to America and once there, wake her up where they will then live happily ever after or something like that.  Impatient, the creepy man doesn’t wait till they arrive at Ellis Island and instead, with a few magic words wakes her up while they are still on the ship.  Then the creepy man dies, leaving the golem, who later takes the name Chava, alone and masterless.  This is problematic because a golem lives to serve and protect his or her master.  Without a master she is assaulted by the needs and silent prayers of all those around here.  Luckily for her, another rabbi, a much more reputable one, sees Chava in the street, recognizes what she is and takes her under his wing.  He has no wish to control or harm her.  Instead he helps her to fit in the human world.

Ahmad is the jinni (genie) of the title.  He is one of a supernatural race of people who are something like a spark of fire that can take multiple forms.  They only live in a bottle and grant wishes when they have been captured and imprisoned against their will.  Ahmad was captured and imprisoned.  He wakes up a thousand years later with little memory of how he came to be imprisoned, let alone of how he came to be on an island so far away from the desert he called home. 

Both Chava and Ahmad find themselves in a new world along with the millions of others who sailed across the ocean to make a better life for themselves in the new country called the United States.  It isn’t long before the golem and the jinni cross paths.  Each sensing the other’s otherness, the golem and jinni strike up a complicated friendship as they explore the streets of New York. 

I’m not sure what to think about this.  I suppose it is partly an immigrant story.  There are religious themes, with representatives from the Jewish, Catholic and Muslim faiths figuring into the story, as well as with a character with atheist leanings.  Evil and goodness are explored.  Obviously there is a hint of magic.  There are so many interesting elements in this story but for some it never quite piqued by interest, at least not until the very end when the golem and the jinni realize they have a common enemy.  I cannot point out any particular thing that was wrong with the novel, it just didn’t speak to me.  That being said, I would courage others to read it as they might find something there that I didn't.  Maybe I just read it at the wrong time.

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