Customer Reviews: The Golem and the Jinni: A Novel
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on September 16, 2015
This is the best book I've read so far this year, and I read a LOT. Wecker's first novel is essentially a debate between male and female leitmotifs, and between good and evil. The golem is a legendary creature made of mud by a rabbi, and the jinni is a version of the blue genie in Disney's "Aladdin," except here, jinnis are creatures of fire. This particular golem is female, and she arrives at turn-of-the-century Ellis Island newly brought to life, her master dead almost immediately. She is filled with a deep compulsion to serve--and hears everybody's needs, through their thoughts. Her maker also gave her both intelligence and curiosity, unlikely talents for a being designed to protect and serve! Although a golem will eventually lose control and destroy without thinking, its impulse to protect voiding reason, she is soon rescued by an elderly rabbi who recognizes her for what she is. He grudgingly takes her under his wing, names her Chava, and begins the arduous process of teaching her self control through living as a virtuous Jewish woman. The jinni, on the other hand, emerges in fairly typical fashion, from an ancient copper oil container being repaired by an immigrant Syrian tinsmith. Although released from the bottle, the jinni remains nevertheless a captive, relegated to human form by an iron manacle shaped as a cuff around one wrist. He can light fires with his fingers and fashion metal with his hands, being in essence made of fire, but nobody can see his true form. Jinns never form permanent relationships but live hedonistically, if transiently. If they hurt or injure human beings, it doesn't matter. This jinni does as he pleases, utterly unaware of the wake of sorrows he may leave behind. He is not evil, merely care-free, which also means uncaring and careless. Hiding in plain sight as the tinsmith's apprentice, the jinni has nowhere else to go and is ill prepared for the confines of his human form, as he discovers rain and snow can kill him. He shares his secret only with the tinsmith, wjo calls him Ahmad and lets him live in his shop. There, Ahmad secretly designs miniature desert creatures from gold and silver and almost literally burns to live free and unencumbered. For him, the confines of the poor tinsmith's life are an unendurable confinement, no matter how openly shared. He avoids the tight-knit & religious Syrian community of NYC and takes to wandering at night, especially in parks and across rooftops, where Ahmad becomes "the Sultan" to people of the night, vagabonds, gypsies, whores and cops. He cannot remember how he was trapped but yearns for the castle of glass he'd fashioned a thousand years before, in an ancient desert no longer known to humankind. If only he can remember how he became enslaved in this corporeal form, perhaps he can free himself to be ancient fire again, at home.

By contrast, Chava the golem is barely six months old when they first happen upon one another, entirely by accident. She can understand and speak any language. Each sees the other's true form and is fascinated to learn more. When each asks, "What are you?" the other answers honestly at once, unable and unwilling to hide from someone who can plainly see, if not yet comprehend. She cannot sleep; he has no need for it. Together they agree to roam the city at night once a week, questioning each other's apparently wholly incompatible reasons for being.

Separately, they experience what it is to be human: through relationships, love, kindness, stupidity, and tragedy. Some of it sloshes onto the other, and they learn a bit about being human, together.

Meanwhile, an unspeakable evil links the two, fire and clay-- and it is searching methodically for them, knowing one, and beginning to sense the other. Soon it will find them both.
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on April 25, 2014
This was an incredible read. I'm still absorbing it. I know that I'll be thinking about it for a good, long time.

It's set in New York at the turn of the previous century. A Polish business man decides that he wants a new life, as well as a wife. The new life is easy - he decides to go to America. The wife is not so simple, as he is an unpleasant and unprepossessing man, without much money. As luck would have it, he knows a man who knows how to make him a wife. And so the Golem is born.

In case you don't know what a Golem is - it's a creature of Jewish folklore, a being made of clay, that is utterly obedient to its master's will. Golems traditionally look about as human as a flowerpot, and are huge, strong beings suitable to hard labour. This Golem is something different. She's as strong as any Golem, but she's much better made -- she looks like an unusually tall, handsome woman. Her husband-to-be requests (rather rashly) that she be intelligent, curious, and sexually modest.

She comes to life on the ship en route to America, just in time to see her husband/master die.

So there we have a Golem, a woman alone on her way to America. She's as innocent of experience as a baby, but she's stronger than a grown man. She's supposed to serve her master's will - but she has no master. Instead, it's as though everyone is her master. She can sense the desires of everyone around her, and is instilled with a drive to fulfil their wishes.

So do I have to spell it out - how incredibly evocative this story is? How many themes it touches on?

Elsewhere in New York, a tinsmith works on a copper jar. A very old copper jar full of dents. As he touches his flame to the jar, there's a blinding flash and a naked man with an iron shackle on his arm, appears out of nowhere. This is the Djinni. A being of fire, who in his natural state can take any shape, go anywhere he likes. But this Djinni has been trapped into human form by a wizard many centuries ago. At least, so the Djinni guesses, because he's lost a part of his memory, and doesn't know how he became trapped.

The story follows the lives of the Golem and the Djinni as they try to survive in the human city of New York. Neither of them can sleep, and some of the most evocative scenes describe their night time exploration of New York and how they, inevitably, meet one another.

At which point things get really complicated.

This is a sensitive, thoughtful book. It never takes the easy way out. I think readers who enjoy historical fiction will find it fascinating too. It's a powerful depiction of a New York from the immigrant's point of view.
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on February 24, 2014
I am an impatient person and an impatient reader so in the beginning I was doubting whether I'd even be able to finish. It takes quite a while before the Golem even meets the Jinni and that could have been speed up quite a bit but stick with this one. I thought it was worth it.
The characters are likeable despite being based on myths they somehow come off as very, very human. The secondary characters are just as likeable and a great atmosphere of the city is created as well as the back ground story on how the Jinni got trapped.
Again could it have moved a bit quicker? Yes. I thought so. But once they do meet the story takes off and it actually becomes an easier read. It's beautifully written throughout and I liked the questions they dealt with of what it meant to be human and the importance of free will, understanding and empathy in any life.
I thought it was more than worth the exercise in my patience and I'm glad to have experienced the story.
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on June 23, 2016
The Golem and the Jinni provides the rare treat of historical fiction infused with fantastic elements whilst mixing multiple cultures. The characters are compelling, multiple related story lines are deftly woven together and the story itself provides a beautiful tableau on which to paint these characters. The turn-of-the-(previous)-century, immigrant New York that Helene Wecker paints is a full character in itself.

Ms. Wecker doesn’t simply invite us to know her characters, she has fully immerses us in their world, their lives, and in their thoughts. As we read the book, the rhythm of our own thoughts and the vocabulary of our own reflections begin to take on a hint of flavor from those of the characters. These characters are so rich in their responses and their thought life as well as the way they see the challenges ahead of them that, while there is a lovely driving narrative throughout the whole story, you can simply enjoy diving into the well of these lives.

Full review on JoesGeekFest on Wordpress
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on June 8, 2015
A complex, unusual, well crafted and well written fantasy novel. This is the story of a golem, a slave made of clay, who is created by Yehudah Schaalman in Danzig, Germany for Otto Rotfeld, a Jewish furniture maker in 1899. A golem is bound to its master for life. Rotfeld goes to New York City but dies aboard the ship. The golem finds her way to shore and is taken in by a Rabbi Avram Meyer who becomes her guardian and names her Chava. A golem has all the features of a human.
Boutros Arbeely Is a Syrian metal smith in NYC who is repairing a small oil lamp for Maryam Faddoul when he touches the scrolling at the base of the pot and a jinni appears who has been trapped in the oil lamp for one thousand years. Arbeely names the jinni Ahmad. The jinni is bound to lifelong servitude to his master and is entrapped by the iron cuff, attached on his wrist, binding him to human form.
The golem and the jinni meet. They are attracted to each other because they realize they are miscasts, alone in a world that makes little sense to them, and alike in many ways. The jinni is a gifted artist and metal smith who goes into business with Arbeely making a beautiful tin ceiling of the Syrian desert where he was enslaved. Chava is adaptable whose purpose is to please others. Without a master she strives to please everyone including the Rabbi, the Rabzin's who own the bakery where Chava turns out beautiful pastries, a talented seamstress and a true friend to Anna and Ahmad.
Wecker takes the reader across the Arabian desert into the Bedoiun tribes and to the course of events responsible for entrapping the jinni in the oil lamp. His servitude is bound for life across the heirs of his original master. Ultimately Chava and Ahmad trace the history of how the jinni became entrapped in the oil lamp and how to release jinni.
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on March 22, 2015
Definitely for older readers. Pace and theme too slow for ya. Different plot from anything I have ever read, but extremely well-written, engaging, and somewhat unpredictable. While fiction, it paints a portrait of Syrian immigrants to New York around 1900. Little Syria is a microcosm of Syrian-American Christian, Muslim, and Jew living together in balance, drawn together by a similar heritage, but tolerating one another in close proximity in this strange new land. Into this comes a golem and a Jinni, magical, mystical creatures of ancient legend, Jewish and Arab, of earth and fire, Chava and Ahmad, respectively, and strangely drawn to one another in their confusion and naivete, changing both and making them protective of one another and their secrets. Both find deep interaction with humans to lead to disaster for the most part, quite unintentionally. Superbly draws a wavy fine line between good and bad with the bad guy doing something good and good guys doing bad, either for their own reasons or because they have no alternative. The grey zone. The characters are so well-developed I became invested in their futures, even some of the secondary characters like Saleh and Maryam. I hope Helene Wecker continues their story as it felt a little bit unfinished, but perhaps she meant the readers to finish it to their own satisfaction. I think I just got so immersed in their world I didn't want to leave. I was sad to leave them. I SO wish today's Syria were more like Little Syria, but even reality changes over time. I loved this book, one of the best I have read in a very long time and superb for a debut writer, but if you want steady action and adventure, don't bother. Go get a Clive Cussler who is at the top of his genre, but can't begin to compare in writing ability and story, setting, and character development with this author. She has a terrific future ahead of her! And I will be anxiously awaiting her next book!
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on April 23, 2016
I read the entire book and continued through the interview of the author and her comments. Then I went to Amazon to look for other books by Helene Wecker...a first novel, wow! I hope she continues to write others, but seven years is a long time to wait for her next story. The advice she got from a friend about telling her story true to her nature (a sci-fi fantasy geek) was perfect. Historically interesting and multi-dimensional in setting and character development, the thing I loved the most about this book, is how universal this story is to all of us. Of course it was really intriguing to learn about the different Jewish & Arabic cultures, and the NYC of old, but how pertinent to all issues we face today. Globalization, Immigration, Religions vs Science, Duty vs Nature, Slavery vs Free Will. A book to make you think, a book to make you laugh and and book to make you cry, but most of all a book that leaves you with hope.
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on January 28, 2015
The Golem and the Jinni is Helene Wecker's debut novel. Set in turn of the century New York City, it blends together Arabic and Yiddish myths (from whence the Jinni and Golem comes from) into a story that ties together the two disparate myths in a surprisingly satisfying fashion. This mix of myths, of course, is old hat to anyone who's played D&D, but is actually fairly rare in literature.

The story moves fairly slowly, with flashbacks to the past frequent, or even a diversion to tell the story of a secondary character. These transitions are occasionally jarring, reminding you that this is Wecker's debut novel, but as far as complaints go, it's not a bad one.

The two major characters are interesting, and pretty well developed, and surprisingly enough do change as the story progresses, which actually goes against the mythos of these creatures. Wecker does, however, provide reasonable-sounding rationale (as if you really would need rationality in terms of mythic creatures) as to why these two are special.

The human characters are more much stereotyped, with one secondary character's recovery from a Jinni-inspired illness happening without explanation. I would argue that more than any single human character, New York City is itself a major character in this novel. The setting is detailed and you do get a good sense of a living city, but since I'm not a big fan of cities, I'd just leave it at that and not speculate as to whether it's an accurate depiction of New York for those who are.

In any case, the story is interesting enough that I didn't complain about how slowly it moved, but went along for a ride. That's a great accomplishment in itself, which means that I will be looking for future novels by Wecker. Recommended.
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on January 17, 2015
What a creative story! A female golem living in a Jewish community and a male jinni living in a Serbian community in early 20th century New York face "otherness" on several levels and find in one another kindred spirits. Helene Wecker told their story with a simple yet elegant style that I found very enchanting. I am looking forward to more from her!
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on July 26, 2014
Desert spells and bindings of Spirit. Transcending the limits of human lifespans and capacities. This story weaves mythos with reality from when wizardry lives beyond its times and origins in ancient Arabic worlds, to yet emerge into a mix of Jewish and Syrian community life in early 20th century New York. We feel the life quicken in an ancient conjured Golem - a woman made from earth and incantations who becomes real, with supernatural capacities. We experience the Jinni, emerged after centuries of captivity from his flask, incarnated as a light filled man in search of who he became bound to - a hideous evil master born again and again through the ages. Then there is the kindly Rabbi who pours through mystic teachings to understand the spells held tightly by those who came before, and who understood the magnitude of what deeds the conjurings could turn loose. Truth - fiction? Things spoken of in these pages have oft been themes revisited through the ages - the manifesting of wishes and life everlasting! Here is a story that will grab and hold you. A story which invites you into experiences which suspend usual notions of what reality can be. A full on creatively crafted story that won't stop holding your attention! Enjoy! Dr. Robin Bentel. Marin County, Ca.
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