By Stefani Muñoz
The Golem and the Jini is quite spectacular. Set in 19th century New York, the book charts the story of, Chava, a golem, and Ahmed, a jinni, as they navigate finding themselves within a foreign land they must learn to call home. Chava, having been created through a process of magic by a Shaman named Yehudah Schaalman, is left alone after the death of her ‘husband’ who paid for her creation so he may finally have a wife. Ahmed, having been trapped in a copper flask by a wizard, is brought from Syria to New York before eventually being released by an unsuspecting tinsmith who then becomes his best confidant.
Both Chava and Ahmed are immediately seen as outcasts, but as they begin to come into their own, an unlikely bond forms between the two. While the two share such a bond as foreigners, they couldn’t be more dissimilar.
Having been created from the very earth itself, Chava is resilient, yet comforting. She exhibits an innocence that, at times, puts her in danger and yet she is able to stand up for herself when needed. Ahmed, a jinni of fire, could not be any more different. With a hot temper and strong personality Ahmed takes to New York with an intention to live to its fullest. From the beginning the reader cannot be sure as to whether these two will be able to coexist, but as the story progresses we come to find out that sometimes opposites do attract.
With her masterful storytelling Helene Wecker is able to expose us to a story of two very different people finding a life within an unfamiliar world. She exploits different genres including historical fiction, fantasy, and magical realism. From the tops of New York’s roofs to the scorching sand of Syria, Wecker’s writing brings us to a place where magic and reality mix in amazing ways. Many different discrepancies and moral judgments are breached beyond their boundaries through Chava and Ahmed as Wecker delves into immigrant experiences, everyday prejudices, and the reality of old and new traditions clashing within a increasingly modernizing New York. The characters were so complex and lovely in their own way that I wish some of them could have been real so that I may one day be able to converse with them. Chava’s progression as a character was especially great to experience because from the beginning of the novel it is clear she is unsure of herself and her place in the world. But with the help of a kind baker Chava is able to find work and a place to settle herself within a world she knows very little of. Thus begin’s Chava’s journey of self-discovery. We follow her as she overcomes obstacles, from coming to learn what it means to love to forging friendships, and comes to uncover what her independence allows her to achieve, her character always resilient and true to herself.
One aspect of the book that I find to be a necessary evil is its length. This book was dense. And while some parts become drawn out and sometimes tough to get through, in the end they worked. It definitely took me a bit longer to read, but I can't say that I hated it. I loved it. Wecker is truly a master of her craft in the way that she is able to seamlessly blend several genres and themes that allow her to create such nuanced characters and I am eagerly anticipating anything else she has to offer. Definitely a novel I plan to keep in my collection for a long, long time.