The title characters of The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker are creatures of folklore: the Golem – a woman fashioned from clay and ancient Kabbalistic magic, the Jinni – an elemental wisp of fire, captured in human form somewhere deep in the Syrian desert. Through circumstances that parallel, intertwine, and then twist to surprisingly common ends, these two find themselves in 1899 New York City amid a crush of humanity and cultures.
The Golem and the Jinni is a dense read, with new characters and plot lines introduced even 3/4 of the way through the book. Keeping up with every detail, every motivation, every twist was a bit laborious, but the book is saved by Wecker’s clear, insightful writing, and the powerful charisma of the Golem and the Jinni themselves.
I enjoyed seeing human nature through the eyes of the Golem and the Jinni – what they learned as outsiders, how they were forced to fit in, and how they ultimately – and with their own definition of success – learned to acclimate without losing themselves. I also enjoyed touring the historic New York City of 1899, and becoming intimately acquainted with the Jewish and Syrian neighborhoods the Golem and the Jinni, respectively, are “adopted” into.
This is not a love story, not in the way most readers might expect. The Golem and the Jinni don’t even meet until halfway through the book. More than love, this book is really about community and belonging, about loneliness and longing. The greatest emotional pull rests in the Golem and the Jinni not being able to be their true selves, their abilities each far outweighing their circumstances. This lack of freedom, the forced hiding and dishonesty, is the underlying tension that propels much of the story, in addition to a bit of mystery surrounding the Jinni’s confinement to human form, and a villain who rises to threaten them both. I was very eager to know how the story would end.
Allowing for its density and a periodic drag in pacing (I definitely skimmed through some sections), The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker is a unique and worthwhile read.
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