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Chava is a golem a creature made of clay brought to life by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic created to be the wife of a man who dies at sea on the voyage from Poland Chava is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York harbor in 1899 Ahmad is a jinni a being of fire born in the ancient Syrian desert trapped in an old copper flask and released in New York City though still not entirely free Ahmad and Chava become unlikely friends and soul mates with a mystical connection Marvelous and compulsively readable Helene Wecker's debut novel The Golem and the Jinni weaves strands of Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature historical fiction and magical fable into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale

10 thoughts on “The Golem and the Jinni

  1. says:

    I am trying something a little different here I found The Golem and the Jinni to be a fun magical fairy tale of a romance with a fair bit of excitement to it But it is pretty clear that this is also a serious literary work raising meaningful philosophical uestions while using the folklore of two different cultures to inform the immigrant experience offering a fascinating look at a place and time and linking the experiences of the old and new worlds These two takes seemed to call for different reviews And as I maintain only one identity on GR the result is two two two reviews in one REVIEW #1 Everyone loves legends lore tales of long ago filled with heroes and magical beings They dilate our pupils excite our imagination and provide the fodder for our dreams Helene Wecker has written a very grown up fairy tale bringing to life a pair of magical beings In doing so she has transported old world legend to a place where and a time when vast numbers of ordinary people were trying to create new dreams new legends of their own immigrant New York City at end of the 19th centuryThe Golem is a clay creature constructed by a corrupt Kabalist near the city of Danzig at the behest of Otto Rotfeld an unsuccessful and unattractive young man But Rotfeld was not looking for a thuggish destroyer He wanted his golem to be made in the form of a woman and imbued with curiosity intelligence and a sense of propriety On the passage to New York Otto suffers a burst appendix and dies but not before he speaks the words that bring his creation to life Newborn and alone but with an ability to perceive the wants of those around her the Golem is set loose in New York Wandering around she is spotted for what she really is by a retired rabbi on the Lower East Side He takes her in tries to get her settled and struggles with how to deal with the fact that she is a creature usually built for the purpose of destruction Helene Wecker image from the Boston GlobeNot too far away in Little Syria an Arab immigrant community near the southern tip of Manhattan Boutros Arbeely a tinsmith is brought an unusually old copper flask While attempting to repair it he is confronted by a magical being of his own a handsome arrogant and unclothed jinni Unfortunately for the jinni despite having been freed of the flask he remains trapped in the shape of a human bound there by an iron cuff on his wrist In this telling jinnis despite excelling at metalwork have no power over iron He will have to cope as a human Each faces challenges The Golem named Chava which means life by the rabbi must cope with the flood of wishes that assail her consciousness from the thousands of people around her She must learn to keep her identity secret This includes coping with the fact that she does not sleep and that it is not considered ok for a young woman to be seen walking the city streets at night even if it her purpose is honorable Like many immigrants before her she is helped by prior arrivals She learns to bake and gets a job in a bakery Unable to go out at night she takes in sewing How immigrant is that?The jinni taken in by the tinsmith is given work in the shop once it becomes apparent that he is a marvel with metal able to heat and mold it with his bare hands Boutros names him Ahmad The jinni is also challenged to keep his true nature under cover But a part of his nature is a lustful side He is smitten with a young thing he encounters and one thing leads to another Chava while not much hot to trot herself becomes an object of romantic interest to a very good young manOf course in time the two encounter each other and that is where the story takes off Not only is there magic in the interaction of these two friends strangers in a strange land they bring depth to their relationship adding even depth to this novel Chava had had content rich discussions with her rabbi rescuer on matters such as why people risk so much to have sex or whether people need a concept of God to keep them from self destructing She and Ahmad discuss the stresses of free will vs the certainty of slavery They talk about her interest in satisfying the wishes of those around her while Ahmad is mostly concerned with satisfying his desires of a moment A great part of the magic in this fable is how the two begin at extreme ends and meet somewhere in the middle growing and changing but very much aware of their limitationsThe two embody in a way the immigrant experience Coming to a new country learning new ways changing in order to fit in coming to value what has been found building a life But character growth consideration of serious moral subjects and a moving relationship are not all that this book has going on There is danger afootKeeping the action moving we get not only a look into the jinni’s ancient past a fascinating and moving segment but there is pursuit on those cobble stoned streets A person with evil intent is tracking the scent of magic and surviving this onslaught is the motive force As we have come to care about both our primary characters their safety mattersNot only has Wecker populated her fable with two wonderful leads but her backup players are extremely rich In fact this is one of the best supporting casts I have seen in a while The Golem and the Jinni has love parental and romantic philosophical heft a vibrant picture of a place and time the euivalent of an actionadventure trial by danger and enough magic to shake a wand at In short it is everything in a book that you could possibly wish forREVIEW #2 It may not take you a thousand and one nights to read The Golem and the Jinni but you may wish it did because you will hate to put it down It is 1899 In a town near Danzig Otto Rotfeld is a failing Prussian Jewish businessman He does not have much success with the ladies either A leering and dismissive manner will do that Determined to change his luck he opts to join the throng heading to that new Mecca the USA Figuring the female sorts there will find him as appealing as did those of the Old World he decides to take matters into his own hands Well rather into the hands of a morally challenged Kabalist who is ok with crafting what Otto wants a bespoke Golem using the traditional clay but made in the shape of a woman and not the sort of towering lumbering bad hair destroyer that usually pops to mind thanks to early German cinemaOr a 20th century versionGotta confess I now see Gwendoline Christie of Game of Thrones fame in the roleImage from syfycomHey the guy's got needs This raises the wonderful theoretical possibility of a high end retail business Build a Golem Schmul clay hurry up Unwell in his steerage accommodation Otto is looking for a little companionship and wakes his special friend Just in time as it turns out as Otto and his burst appendix fail to make it to the particular new world he was hoping to reach This leaves a rather bewildered powerful and telepathic mythical creature heading for Ellis Island She finds an unusual way to cope when asked for her papers which I will not spoil then wandering around the city is taken in by a retired rabbi who sees her for what she really is Yeah he’s a lot older but he really sees me The Golem truly is a stranger in a strange land but she is not the only oddity on shore I was not yet born Don’t be mean In Little Syria an immigrant community near the southern tip of Manhattan a Maronite Catholic tinsmith Boutros Arbeely is brought a copper flask to repair While beginning work on the piece with a soldering iron no rubbing of the magic container this time he is blasted across the room and before you can say Robin Williams three times fast there on his shop floor is a naked man And it’s not even Halloween in the Village Really he is a creature made of fire and mist but is confined by virtue of an iron bracelet into the form of a human In this imagining iron is something a jinni can’t do anything with I guess like bad fashion sense Sorry no puff of smoke But this magic man is a hottie He is of course cut and handsome but in addition he is a natural metalworker I will leave comments having to do with his ability to mold hard things to cruder reviewers Boutros despite the jinni’s arrogance gives him a place to live and a job He ain’t never had a friend like him I see in my tiny mind the steamy Colin O'Donoghue who played Captain Hook on the series Once Upon a Time but am certainly open to other ethnically appropriate suggestionsMaybe Mena Massoud of Aladdin fameYa think these two undocumenteds might cross paths? Duh uh But it will take some time as each has his and her own road to travel In the summer of 2019 GR reduced the allowable review size by 25% from 20000 to 15000 characters In order to accommodate the text beyond that I have moved it to the comments section directly below

  2. says:

    All of us are lonely at some point or another no matter how many people surround us And then we meet someone who seems to understand She smiles and for a moment the loneliness disappears Unsure what to think as I finally took the plunge into this 19th Century New York tale of friendship different cultures and of course magic I found myself completely transported to another worldI understand why readers often call The Golem and the Jinni fantasy it certainly has the depth epic scope and density of a fantasy novel and yet I'm inclined to call it a combination of historical fiction and magical realism But whatever the genre it's a beautifully written story of finding one's place in a strange world all wrapped up with a fascinating combination of Jewish and Arabian folkloreThe story follows two characters Chava a golem created by dark magics paid for by her master who longed for a wife When her master dies on the Atlantic crossing from Europe to New York Chava must navigate this new world alone hide who she is and figure out both how to live and just exactly what she wants from lifeThe other character is a Jinni called Ahmad He lived in the Syrian desert until he was trapped in a flask by a wizard Over a thousand years later he emerges in New York when a tinsmith releases him from his prison With the tinsmith's help and kindness he too must figure out this new strange world and find a place in itThough from very different backgrounds and cultures these two foreigners' paths are destined to cross United by their shared statuses as outsiders a strange friendship develops and they try to adjust to 19th Century New York City togetherIt's a very whimsical magical book filled with delicious description sometimes uite literally as Chava works in a bakery The plot and writing are dense occasionally becoming overlong in certain parts but not so much that I minded It has a truly magical opening that draws you in as well as two interesting main characters which than makes up for the slight drag of some chaptersSometimes it is just so fascinating to be these two outsiders looking in at humanity It is at its most basic level a tale of immigrants adjusting to a new land but we also have the additional factor of it being two supernatural beings adjusting to humanity uestions are raised about the human need for religion free will vs slavery and why humans will sacrifice so much for sexual desireIt is simultaneously a look at 19th century American culture through the eyes of foreign immigrants and a look at humanity through the eyes of foreign beings Both clever and magicalBlog | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Youtube | Pinterest

  3. says:

    Just this once I wish I could say 'The Golem and the Jinni is awesome Trust me' and just leave it at that Not only because it is but also because Helene Wecker's debut novel is a hard book to put into words full of wonder and meaning and an experience I don't think any review can fully do justice to Still even though I'll probably miss things here goesChava is a golem Ahmad is a jinni This is not a story of their chance encounter and subseuent whirlwind romance among century ago New York's immigrant community No this is one of those books The ones that ponder the meaning of life and examine what it means to be human to have free will and faith and hope using the eyes of the least human among us to do so It's a mix of historical fiction and Gilded Age myth Jewish mysticism and Arab folklore combining elements of Frankenstein and Aladdin in a seamless narrative that's both timeless and modern insightful yet movingI'll admit I didn't think The Golem and the Jinni would be that book when I first started Helene Wecker’s writing style leans toward fairy tale than historical almost as if there’s a surreal uality that makes her book difficult to place in its nineteenth century setting early on but as I would later realize also lends an idealistic romantic air to a city and a story that very well needed it It's fantastical when the story needed to feel exotic restrained when the tone had to be subdued but always personal and touching That said sadly the first chapter is probably also the weakest explaining Chava’s origins in that no nonsense fairy tale way that leaves very little to the imagination compounded by a story that's slow very slow if affectionately crafted Yet as the narrative unfolds as Chava loses her ‘husband’ to appendicitis and finds herself alone and masterless in the urban jungle that is New York City even then it’s obvious that Wecker uickly turns those weaknesses into elements of strength Chava desperately trying to pass as human for her own survival is taken in by the elderly Rabbi Meyer and although he’s not unkindly towards the golem the uncertainty both for him and for her of whether she can go against her violent nature hangs in the air And it’s Chava created to serve the needs of humans yet trying to understand how to behave like one who forms half the story There are deep profound moments about private thoughts and human nature and whimsical moments with Chava testing the limits of her body even eating food and trying to figure out where it goes and the entire effect is that this wonderfully complex incredibly compelling character slowly emerges trying to pass for human out of necessity yes but also showing what it means to be one maybe even a bit about the meaning of existence itself Needless to say I celebrated her triumphs felt for her losses understood her apprehensions and hoped for her survival all as she’s trying to find her way in the worldThe other half of the story is Ahmad a creature very different from potentially even the opposite of Chava Chava is of the earth; Ahmad is a being of fire Chava is days old innocent to the world; Ahmad is centuries old jaded by his imprisonment Chava doesn’t understand what it means to be human; Ahmad has the wrong ideas Yet even before they meet Wecker has created the perfect foil for the golem a jinni who’s not less than human but someone as wild and eternal as the desert air bound by flesh and blood now a fraction of who he was In contrast to the golem’s uncertainty his is a restless anxiety that chafes at the limits of human freedom yet I felt his despair at the constraints of humanity as much as I felt Chava’s fear of the limitlessness of humanity And in a way their intertwining stories form a reminder I think to the rest of us that like Chava and Ahmad we’re all trying to find ourselves between these two extremesLest I forget there is actually a plot Chava and Ahmad don’t spend the entire book wandering the streets of New York discussing the human condition while forming the unlikeliest of friendships even if I guess my review does give that impression Sure a lot of it is about fitting in being human some of it a celebration of the immigrant experience through culture faith community even the hope of Lady Liberty followed by the realities of working class New York but connecting Chava and Ahmad’s story is also one Yehudah Schaalman evil Kabbalist The suspense of Schaalman’s machinations adds a bit of urgency to a story that otherwise really doesn’t have any well beyond flashbacks from Ahmad’s point of view slowly revealing his past while forming parallels with his present but it’s Schaalman mostly in the background ominous and foreboding who brings Chava and Ahmad’s story ultimately to its conclusion I’m not entirely satisfied with the somewhat rushed ending particularly with Sophia Winston’s role though I do see how it mirrors Fadwa’s a character from Ahmad’s past and I feel Schaalman as the villain is a weaker aspect of the book than the exploration of human nature but the epilogue ends on such a bittersweet yet hopeful note I still deeply respect what Helene Wecker has doneIn a word The Golem and the Jinni is a masterful look at the meaning of life through the eyes of two supernatural beings living in nineteenth century New York Just by their everyday attempts to understand themselves Chava and Ahmad their story says a lot about all of us

  4. says:

    Oh man the book was a little long but it was so worth it The pacing was excellent and I really enjoyed the uniue story line and the way everything comes together in the end There is nothing better to me than a well executed story line where everything seems to have a purpose and ties into the larger arc of what's happening Also I really enjoyed the way that Chava and Ahmed's relationship is developed because it never felt like the rest of what was going on every becomes secondary to it which happens in a lot of books I do appreciate romance novels but it gets tiring to see relationships portrayed in such an idealized way all the time The idea of their individual identities was so interesting too and the whole dynamic of them trying to figure out to fit in with everyone around them just really appealed to me I don't think my reviews ever make any sense to anyone because my head is always cluttered right after reading books but if I wait to write reviews I'll never get to doing them honestly This book is definitely one of my new favorites and I would totally recommend it to anyone that enjoys mystical plots

  5. says:

    This is a very good book It's a gentle book concerned with people spiced by having both of the main point of view characters being supernatural creatures namely a newly created golem and an ancient jinni Both of these arrive in turn of the 19th20th century New York and have to find their feet in the appropriate diaspora ie Jewish and Syrian The two cultures as realised within New York at a time when Lady Liberty's arms really were wide open to immigrants are expertly and accurately drawn as far as I can tell and I enjoyed reading about themThe words that spring to mind when I think of the book are charming and intriguingThere's no real conflict for most of the book and no real danger We are just concerned about the golem and the jinni settling in successfully into their new lives but it's a fun read and they are engaging charactersHowever a slow burn backstory does develop through the reveal of the jinni's backstory and the continuing machinations of the golem's creatorWhen eventually these two threads come together there's a sudden flush of excitement and danger and I was left looking at the rapidly thinning bundle of remaining pages and wondering how everything could be resolved so uicklyThe ending was clever and exciting but somehow I was moved by the build up and felt slightly underwhelmed by the end Although it was good I did wonder view spoiler why Sophia's lingering illness which seems to be the result of carrying and miscarrying the jinni's baby was left unresolved hide spoiler

  6. says:

    This is one of my favorite books of the year I didn't know a ton about it going in other than the gorgeous cover and I'm very glad I didn't It is a historical urban fantasy of sorts about a Golem and a Djinn separately stranded in turn of the century New York city The two character's storylines intertwine beautifully with themes of identity religion and friendship weaving in and out of a wonderfully detailed world If you liked The Night Circus or Dr Strange and Mr Norrell you'll really love this book

  7. says:

    Sorry it took me so long to write a review for this one but the past weeks have been hectic and not so fun I still have little time but if I don’t write a few words now I’ll never do it I added The Golem and The Jinni to my TBR in March 2014 yes than 6 years ago This year I am planning to tackle all books added in February and March 2014 and this is one of them Until now I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by the books that I’ve read from that selection and this one is no exception The PlotChava is a Golem created by a practitioner of dark magic to serve as a wife for a rich merchant During the sea voyage towards New York the “husband” dies and the Golem finds herself alone and lost in the big city During an incident that could have caused a disaster her nature is recognized by a rabbi who protects and becomes her mentor and guide Due to her nature Chava can read people’s desires and fears and also possesses great strength that can become destructive Doubting whether he should save or destroy her the Rabbi deepens the study on Golems while helping her to blend in Ahmad is a Jinni born on the location of present day Syria than one thousand years ago Arbeely a tinsmith is brought an old copper flask to repair one that has been in the client’s family for generations While he polishes an inscription he accidentally releases the Jinni who has no recollection of how he got entrapped in the small object Ahmad is sheltered by the tinsmith and when the creature of fire proves to be extremely talented with metal manipulation he also becomes an apprentice in the Tin shop Both creatures are faced with a series of challenges they find living among humans very difficult and they are always at risk for their secret to be revealed One day they accidentally meet and immediately understand that they are different beings but united in their uniueness CharactersWriting and other aspectsSince I listened to this book I spent around a month together with the characters so I got to know them uite well and warm up to them I thought Ahmad and Chava were well rounded their strength and weaknesses were balanced I was sorry for them I cheered when they were happy and got angry when they did something stupid and hurt someone The supporting characters were also interesting and diverse The book was a bit too long there were some parts that could have been cut but in the same time my relationship with the characters would have been shallower The writing was beautiful perfect for storytelling I loved how the authors wrote the setting the sense of place and time felt vibrant and real even when we were in New York of 1899 or transported in the desert many years in the past There is magic action mystery and glimpses in the life of immigrants relatable to anyone that left their home The AudiobookI believe this book is perfect for narration and George Guidall did a perfect job He is a very talented narrator and I enjoyed my time spend with him and the beautiful story created by Helene Wecker He managed to move seamlessly from a female voice to a male one and the pacing was just right

  8. says:

    ‘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’ a woman made of clay and a man made of fire she is steadfast and constant where he is capricious and free spirited and yet they both find themselves thrown into a world not of their choosing bound by plans greater than themselves if you ever needed proof that opposites attract its this story i adore the friendship that grew between these two individuals who seem to have nothing in common on the surface but are able to connect in such meaningful ways this story is magic with such a uaint feel the setting of 1899 new york is such a delight i love the multicultural atmosphere of the different neighbourhoods and variety of characters i sometimes forgot i was reading a magical realism book because the historical fiction aspect of this novel is just so vibrant and yes the pacing is slow but it reminds me of the thawing of winter tedious and we are sometimes impatient because of it but when those first signs of spring bloom we appreciate having to wait and this story is very much like that this is a real hidden treasure of a book ↠ 4 stars

  9. says:

    I'm really uite amazed at the things this novel does right It's a detailed and grand scaled historical romance as well as being a delightful hop in magical realism but I couldn't help make direct connections to Jonathan Strange Mr NorrellBut not because many of the ideas are the same They aren't What is the same is the length and the attention to historicism and the depth of the real history and especially the depth of the magic The length of the novel and beautiful prose also has a lot to do with it as wellIt's basically an immigrant story that becomes an empowerment story with a strong thread of very understated romance The large set of characters never overwhelms the main two The woman of Earth and the man of Fire are both magical creatures that find their way at the turn of the last century's New York City It's really uite delightfulShe was created out of clay and designed with intelligence and curiosity but she was also designed to be subservient and modest with an evil strain built in to all golems that make them wish to utterly destroy their creators once they get a taste for blood He was a wild spirit of fire before he was enslaved and was forced to live in stasis for a thousand years until luck would have him freed and at loose ends in cold winters that he is unable to escape fromHow beautiful is that? It sounds like the setup for a grand romance But it isn't Not really Theirs is a relationship based on trust and deep friendship and even when that trust is broken they forgive and return to each otherThere's even an evil wizard that returns through each life with not just a complicated background but also a complicated inner life I can't uite call him irredeemable He does good and and makes beauty He made the golem after all But his nature leads him down very dark pathways tooSo was this a character novel or a plot driven one? Both And wonderfully so I got engrossed in everything The journey was a pure delight I totally recommend for anyone who wants a classy and gorgeous historical romance full of deep magic and iconic archetypal characters that are beautifully drawn

  10. says:

    This is the story of a golem and a jinni how they discover who they are their strengths their weaknesses and how even though they're composed of completely different elements they may just be the best friend for each other in a human world where they will never truly belongAs I was reading The Golem and the Jinni enjoying their adventures and waiting to see how they would discover their origins I didn't consider for a moment the idea that the tale could be a metaphor for something elseWhen I read the A with the author at the end of the book I was really kicking myself Of course it made total sense as a metaphor for cultural differences And when I thought about it that way I liked the story even On the other hand this tale can be completely enjoyed and interpreted as a historical fictionfairytale and if you're not in the mood to think any deeper than that it doesn't matter because it's still awesome So it's a winwin book for the deep thinkers and the no thinkers The Golem and the Jinni is not a fast read Wecker really builds the characters and gives the back story for everybody who comes across the pageAt first I was like Do we really need to know the ice cream guy's life story? and I was getting frustrated with the pacing of it But as her characters came together and their lives began to intertwine I began to appreciate the true artistry of the novelIt is like an orchestral fugue in which the instruments play their themes one by one at the beginning which is beautiful but when the tones combine it lifts the piece to a whole other place That is The Golem and the Jinni Give it the time and space to build the characters and you will be blown away by the ending At least I wasWecker has a talent for creating multi layered characters Though the golem is only a few hours old the author manages to instill in her a childlike curiosity mixed with the timelessness of a magical creatureIn this passage the golem is seeing the Statue of Liberty for the first time The deck was crowded with people and at first the Golem didn't see what they were waving at But then there she was a gray green woman standing in the middle of the water holding a tablet and bearing aloft a torch Her gaze was unblinking and she stood so still was it another golem? And those on deck were waving and shouting at her with jubilation crying even as they smiled This too the Golem thought was a constructed woman Whatever she meant to the others she was loved and respected for it For the first time the Golem felt something like hope pg 17 ebook She also describes scenes just beautifully In this passage the Jinni sees New York harbor The Jinni leaned against the railing transfixed by the view He was a creature of the desert and never in his life had he come so close to this much water It lapped at the stone below his feet reaching now higher now lower Muted colors floated on its surface and afternoon sunlight reflecting in the ever changing dips of the waves Still it was hard to believe that this was not some expert illusion intended to befuddle him At any moment he expected the city and water to dissolve to be replaced by the familiar steppes and plateaus of the Syrian Desert his home for close to two hundred years pg 23 ebookI loved the little let's call them wisdom nuggets that Wecker sprinkled throughout the story Like A man might desire something for a moment while a larger part of him rejects it You'll need to learn to judge people by their actions not their thoughts pg 40 ebook Or Men need no reason to cause mischief only an excuse pg 172 ebookI also connected with this passage where the Jinni is thinking about the power of names To him the new name suggested that the changes he'd undergone were so drastic so pervasive that he was no longer the same being at all He tried not to dwell on such dark thoughts and instead concentrated on speaking politely and maintaining his story but every so often as he listened to the chatter of yet visitors he spoke his true name to himself in the back of his mind and took comfort in the sound pg 68 ebookI recommend The Golem and the Jinni for folks who enjoy historical fiction blended with fantasy folks who love deep characters and for anyone who loves to read beautiful prose This book has all of that