Source: Bought in e-reader format
Published by: Harper Collins
Released: 15 August 2013
Buy it from: Hive
In a nutshell: The Golem and the Jinni is…
A sweetly haunting exploration of the 19th Century immigrant experience, seen through the eyes of two mythological beings trying to find their feet in the New World.
I’ve had this on my to-read list for a while. So I’m cross with myself that I didn’t get to it sooner, as it’s easily one of the best books I’ve read this year.
Chava, a Jewish golem and Ahmad, a Jinni living in the Syrian quarter of New York struggle to come to terms with their new lives and with the challenges of keeping their true selves secret from their communities .
“All of us are lonely at some point or another, no matter how any people surround us. And then, we meet someone who seems to understand. She smiles, and for a moment the loneliness disappears.”
Maybe it’s just me who has this personal bugbear? That you’re reading a book that is set in a historical (or quasi-historical in the case of secondary world fantasies) era, but apart from the odd “thee” and “thou”, the author carries on in everyday modern English. I’m delighted to say that not only does Helene Wecker avoid this, but that she writes in a way that feels historically authentic whilst still being easy to understand. She also has a real talent for shaping her dialogue to give a sense of place as well as character. Even if she weren’t to describe the Jewish and Syrian parts of the city narratively, you’d still get a rich sense of each culture just through the smaller details and idioms of the characters’ speech. It sounds like a small thing, but for me it’s a powerful way to truly immerse the reader in their surroundings. And having tried it myself, it’s not as easy as it looks!
Chava, arguable the book’s main protagonist, is an absolute dream of a character. Despite being a golem, she’s easily the most human and relatable character in the book. As a reader, you quickly develop a concern and affection for her as she finds her feet in the alien world she’s been thrust into and begins to make a life for herself.
I especially liked the ongoing theme of a fear of losing control that Chava struggles with. Although here it’s expressed through the risk of her as a supernatural creature, giving herself away or worse still, hurting someone else, I think it’s something many of us can relate to. Who hasn’t felt pressure to fit in with a group or conform to a societal standard that they’d prefer not to, given a free choice?
In this sense, Ahmad the Jinni is the counterbalance. He rages against the establishment; the system he that he feels keeps him locked down and prevents his freedom. But is life without any constraints what we reall want or need?
A unique retelling of the classic immigrant experience for fans of magical realism or historical fiction.