Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

    Title: The Golem and the Jinni: A Novel (P.S.)
    Classification: Adult Fiction
    Genre: Fantasy
    Format: Hardcover; 496 pages
    Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (April 23, 2013)
    ISBN-10: 0062110837
    ISBN-13: 978-0062110831 
    Author Website:
    Notes: This was a library loan

Once upon a time a man wanted a wife, but no one would have him. Desperate, he resorted to asking for the aid of a man whom he heard tales could help him. Thus, a golem was brought into the world to be his wife. Tragedy, however, struck on the voyage to the new land and the Golem, newly awakened, soon found herself to be without a master, without a home, and with no guidance in the middle of New York City. She'll try to make a life of her own in a world where no others are like her and some would fear her if they knew what she truly was.

Once upon a time a Jinni fell victim to a wizard and was trapped inside a bottle for several hundred years. When he emerged, he found himself to have no powers, as an iron cuff which could not be removed (no matter how hard he tried) kept him bound to human form. While having no power over him, he finds himself at the mercy of the man who freed him and took pity upon him. Now halfway round the world in New York City he is thousands of miles away from his homeland of Syria, trying to make a life for himself--a life he never would have foreseen.

This is their story.


Some people say our lives are like a tapestry and as we go through life it appears it consists of a bunch of loose ends and tangled threads with no set pattern or design to it. When complete, however, we can turn it around and see it the way it was intended to be seen--in its entirety--and find that it indeed held a distinct pattern and see how all the individual parts and pieces came together perfectly to tell a very unique story. Well, that's sort of how I felt about this book. We get patches of details here and there and when the story is done we see how it all weaved together and could be nothing less than what it is, and it all fits together perfectly. The reason I mention this is because if you're like me, you may get to a point where you hope all the individual side stories are not just meaningless rants where the author has gone off on a tangent, which is common among new authors. Rest assured that all the little stories come together beautifully at the end and the whole justifies the author's means.

In some ways the Golem, Chava, who is supposed to be obedient to her master, reminds me of  Ella from 'Ella the Enchanted', the girl who was gifted/cursed with obedience. When Chava has a master she's bound to do his or her bidding, which at first Chava seems to crave, but later comes to see it for the curse that it is. At other times, Chava reminds me a little of Nick Marshall, the character Mel Gibson played in 'What Women Want', who heard the thoughts of all the women around him except in this instance, Chava hears the thoughts of both the men and women. Chava, of course (being what she is) is compelled to try to fulfill all the needs of those around her and has to realize that for one individual to do so and for so many is impossible and she has to learn to ignore the compulsion.

The Jinni, on the other hand, is the very opposite of Chava. Where Chava was meant to serve others, the Jiini was born with the power to have and do whatever he wished. He was one of the most powerful and intelligent of his race. He was not constrained and nothing really bothered him, as any problem he encountered could be easily remedied. This made him careless, self centered, and dangerous to those around him who could not do the same. For him, dealing with the loss of his powers is devastating, and he'll soon learn that actions have consequences even if he doesn't stick around long enough to see them.

Both Chava and the Jinni find individuals to mentor them and help them assimilate into society. Chava's mentor is a Jewish Rabbi who gets into deep discussions with her, yet isn't extremely preachy when doing so. He tells her the story of another golem and warns her, “Once a golem develops a taste for destruction 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. They are creatures of last resort. Remember that.” Despite the danger associated with having a golem around, the Rabbi can't justify destroying her, and his ultimate goal is to find her a new master. The questions is who? Chava, however, is somewhat different than other golems in that when she was created by a man who was to be her husband, and who asked that she be curious, intelligent and proper (i.e. not lascivious), and I questioned whether or not finding her a new master is truly the best solution.

The Jinni's mentor, ironically, is a tinsmith. A man of humble means, Arbeely teaches the Jinni how the other half lives, and helps him establish a profession and means to support himself. What I find interesting in regards to the Jinni is throughout most of the book I kept thinking of him as 'The Jinni' instead of Ahmad whereas, once the Golem was named, I almost immediately started thinking of her as Chava. I believe I had trouble associating with the Jinni and couldn't quite categorize him as a human.

I admit, a substantial part of the book kept the Jinni's and the Golem's tales separate to the point that I began to wonder if the two would ever meet. When they did, it was fun to see these two very different individuals interact and come to respect each other's opinions. Each is different from those around them and together they bond and come to understand the other as well as those around them. In many ways, I felt Chava and Ahmad were like opposite sides of the same coin--different yet both fundamentally the same. I felt the author foreshadowed the Golem and the Jinni's relationship, even though he left the extent of their relationship open to interpretation at the end, by using this statement made by the Rabbi about love: “All of us are lonely at some point or another, no matter how many people surround us. And then, we meet someone who seems to understand. She smiles, and for a moment the loneliness disappears. Add to that the effects of physical desire—and the excitement you spoke of—and all good sense and judgment fall away.” The Rabbi paused, then said, “But love founded only on loneliness and desire will die out before long. A shared history, tradition, and values will link two people more thoroughly than any physical act.” Even when the Jinni seemed to have it all, he didn't appear to be happy, and the author makes us question what makes one happy with statements like, “Sometimes men want what they don't have because they don't have it. Even if everyone offered to share, they would only want the share that wasn't theirs.”

Overall, I gave this book 4 1/2 out of 5 roses. A delightful tale which engages the reader with thought provoking questions and insights. While I did at times get a little inpatient with the pace (let's face it the book is long) everything was essential to the outcome. A wonderful debut by Helene Wecker. I look forward to reading more of her tales in the future.

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