Book Review: The Golem and The Jinni by Helene Wecker

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

I absolutely adored this. Magical realism at its finest! And even though it wasn’t exactly what I had expected, I can’t really say that I minded. Otherwise, as a character so deftly put it in this book, I would be like “a man who complains that someone stole the eggs from his henhouse and replaced them with rubies.”

This fantasy novel is also a touching and meaningful immigrant tale at its heart, combining religion and mythology to tell a story of two supernatural creatures who find themselves in New York City in 1899. Chava is a magically-crafted clay golem, brought to life to serve a husband who dies at sea while on the voyage from Poland. When the ship reaches NYC, she is left directionless and without a master. Ahmad is a jinni, released accidentally after being trapped in a copper flask for hundreds of years. Though freed from the vessel, he finds himself still bound to the physical world by a band of iron around his wrist, placed there by the wizard who imprisoned him so long ago.

The story plays out like a fairy tale for adults, complete with elements like love and villains. It is filled with wonderful, fully-realized characters which hooked me from the start. The multiple narratives paint an enchanting picture of the bustling and culturally rich setting of turn-of-the-century New York, where immigrants from so many places around the world settled in the hopes of finding a better life. In this milieu, the golem and the jinni become two more faces in the crowd trying to seek a new beginning in America. Despite being creatures of lore, their struggles and aspirations make them feel entirely too human.

Both the golem and the jinni face questions and obstacles that deal with the notion of freedom versus subjugation; how the two characters approach these issues and choose to deal with them is what forms the basis for this story and makes it so interesting. In this novel, everyone you meet will guard their secrets and hold mysteries in their past. As you read on, the fun is in watching all these histories unfold and the connections start to form.

Just simply a beautiful book, and a great choice if you’re in the mood for some literary fantasy.

4.5 of 5 stars

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