The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

This was an interesting book, entwining myths of Arabic and Jewish cultures with the lives of new immigrants in turn-of-the-century New York. Chava, a golem girl built from clay to serve her lonely master, and Ahmad, an entrapped genie in a bottle, struggle with their inner natures and to fit in with the flawed humans they meet in the ethnic neighborhoods of working class America. In most stories about these two mythical beings, genies grant wishes when released from their bottles and golems are used to wage wars and destroy shit before they becoming completely uncontrollable, but …that doesn’t really happen with these two. They’re both too principled or too nice or maybe super powerful or super unique or otherwise somewhat remarkable or something. It’s rather unclear.

the golem and the jinni

Painfully slow storytelling and (ok, let’s be honest) quite a few extraneous side characters who didn’t really move the plot along (or help establish the quirks of the immigrant neighborhoods) abound in this one, although I did like how the author intertwined myths of the two disparate cultures into this one narrative.

I felt the middle got a little repetitive and I’d really wished that the earthy solidness of Chava and the fiery nature of Ahmad were explored a bit more. I mean, they kept telling me her legs ached from being still, so I wanted her to find a use for that energy besides baking because that seemed weird. I also really thought the possession stories could have been played up a bit more to help drive Ahmad’s character. After all, he constantly had a glowing face “spark” that most couldn’t see, but when they could, nothing really happened. There is a constant fear that one or both will be discovered for what they truly were, and that does happen, and yet…nothing really comes of it. I also felt Michael Levy should have been more than just a one-sided character of convenience. I also needed Saleh’s background and sacrifice to mean more and just felt like it was dropped too quickly. The end also didn’t seem to wrap up any but the most basic conflicts of Ahmad and Chava’s issues in New York.¬†Finally, the Joseph Schall/ibn Malik connection really should have been a bigger deal.

Anyway, although I’m complaining a lot, I enjoyed The Golem and the Jinni, and the ideas about free will and such presented. It’s true that this book moved a bit too slowly to develop its meetings, conflicts, etc. and then wrapped them up too quickly and unsatisfyingly when it finally meandered to its end, but that didn’t make it unreadable. For all its problems, I almost always love magical realism, I enjoyed Wecker’s unique narrative voice here, and I would say this book was definitely worth a read (but likely not a reread).

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