Monday, April 13, 2015

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

An exciting, mythical book, mixing together magical creatures and New York city as it grew and developed into the city it is today, The Golem and the Jinni combines characters from both Jewish and Arabic tales and places them in an environment anyone can relate to, takes mythical creatures and levels the playing field by making them immigrants just like so many others. 

The biggest surprise comes toward the end of the story (which I won’t spoil) as we learn how these two creatures are connected and begin to see them as surprisingly human despite their challenges to fit into the world around them. We also see the power the everyday man and woman can have in believe the mystical, in protecting the mystical, even to their detriment.

Two things about this book piqued my interest and made the read very exciting and interesting. Firstly, it was seeing how the author had these characters live. Chava, the Golem, loses her master on the passage to America and is left to assimilate into bustling city of New York only a few days old, missing an essential part of her being. She luckily befriends a Rabbi who helps her along and finds her place despite the challenge of keeping her emotions in check. Ahmad, the Jinni, emerges from 1,000 years imprisoned with no memory of how he got there. His talents working with metals gets him a job and secures him a place, but he’s restless and struggles with accepting the people around him and his equals rather than inferior beings.

Then, the two creatures meet and realize they aren’t alone in the world as being “special.” It changes everything and a relationship forms, binding them together because they are the only ones who understand the other, truly. When the villain arises to challenge their ways of life and their feelings for each other, they must react against the natures imposed on them, battling between who they’ve become in this new world and what they were created for/turned into. It’s an exciting battle between self and others that ends in an optimistic and satisfying way. You know that Chava and Ahmad have more than one lifetime to get it right anf figure out how to find happiness, and you’re rooting for them.

The second aspect of this book that was so exciting was the mysticism. It’s what drew me to the book before I even started reading it. How could a Jinni and a Golem actually live, undetected, in a bustling city like New York? There are eyes everywhere, people watching from all corners, noticing what’s usual and different and drawing it out. The very idea was so unique and unusual. Beyond that, how would the author bring together a desert-­dwelling genie and a mud-­made protector? Of course, they’d come together as any human couple, to talk and get to know each other. To share their own feelings, fears, and hopes for their lives. To find a soul mate to be brutally honest with. It’s the ideal of a relationship and proof that two like-­minded beings can find solace in each other if they’re willing to build a real friendship. I love the way the author brings together her two characters and keeps them fighting for each other throughout the whole story. I love the way the people they befriend throughout the story stay connected to them. These are two powerful creatures, scary to most who hear the tales of others like them, yet genuine enough to be trusted and cared for by the people who meet them. The dynamic is so powerful.

Books that combine the mythic with the real can struggle at times to keep things in perspective. Getting caught up in the magic can make the real backdrop it all takes place in feel artificial, but not here. You finish the book feeling like you could run into these characters, now, after all this time, living their lives in New York, simply blending in. And you feel hope, which is a wonderful way to wrap up a great read.