Golems, a part of Jewish folklore, are anthropomorphic creatures made from clay or earth, brought to life by Rabbis knowledgeable in arcane dark arts; to be bound and controlled by a master. golems possess great physical strength and are in tuned to their master’s thoughts, desires, and wishes. Though golems are designed to follow a master, they have a tendency to run amok when they develop a taste for violence.
Jinni is a collective term for supernatural creatures made of fire which are found in Arabian folklore. Jinnis range from weak impish creatures with limited powers and abilities to powerful beings with the ability to grant wishes. Superior kinds of jinnis can take on any form they choose, be it animal or human, and can enter other creatures’ dreams.
These two supernatural beings are the main characters in Helene Wrecker’s 2013 novel, The Golem and the Jinni. Set in New York in 1889, the novel tells the tale of how a “newborn” golem and a nearly thousand-year-old jinni both find themselves in one busiest cities in America.
Created to be the wife of a Polish furniture maker bound for New York, the Golem unexpectedly finds herself masterless only hours after being awakened. Arriving at New York alone and confused, she walks the streets of the crowded and busy city bombarded by the silent wishes and desires of everyone around her. Unsure of what to do with herself, she fights off her innate urge to grant the unsaid desires and wishes of everyone she encounters, and almost gets mobbed by a crowd of angry pedestrians for giving in to the pull of the needy. Rescued by a Rabbi who recognizes her for what she truly is, she is taken under his wing for protection and guidance on how to pretend to be human.
A jinni, with no memory of how he got there, suddenly finds himself on the floor of a tinsmith’s shop in Little Syria in Manhattan, thousands of miles from his desert home, released from a copper flask covered in some kind of mysterious inscription. Naked and bound to a human form, the Jinni, almost bereft of his supernatural powers, only has a vague idea of his former self, and none whatsoever of how he was bound and captured. Boutros Arbeely, the tinsmith who unknowingly released the Jinni was amazed at the Jinni’s ability to forge metals with his bare hands, and thinking he was doing the Jinni a favor, Arbeely he takes it upon himself to provide the Jinni with a home and an apprenticeship to his shop.
Learning about life and human nature from the Rabbi, the Golem becomes aware of the dangers in being discovered. She confines herself to her boardinghouse as much as possible, trying her best to go unnoticed by those around her. Lonely, the Golem wants nothing more than to do the bidding of a master, and everyday she grows more and more frustrated by her independence and idleness.
The Jinni, on the other hand, is annoyed at having to rely on and apprentice himself to a human, making pots and pans day in and day out, pretending to be normal. Completely opposite of the Golem, the Jinni roams the city at night, looking for different ways to entertain himself, making no apologies for his restless nature.
Unaware at first of each other’s existence, the Golem and the Jinni struggle to fit in among the humans of New York City, painfully aware of how different they are from everyone else. But when their paths accidentally cross, they are delighted, yet alarmed to learn that they are not the only supernatural creature in New York City.
The Golem and the Jinni strike up an unlikely friendship, drawn to yet repelled by each other’s nature and temperament. As the Jinni and the Golem get to know each other, they learn that their strange lives and destinies are unbelievably intertwined.
Though the author’s simple and straightforward writing style makes The Golem and the Jinni a fast and easy read, I felt at times that her lack of in-depth descriptions of events, places and characters also made her novel seem flat and lifeless. From the very beginning of the novel, the author describes the events of the novel with some kind of urgency, making hard for me to really connect with the characters and to place myself in the novel.
The novel follows the lives of a lot of characters, including the Golem and the Jinni, jumping from one story to another, but nothing really happens for most part of the book making it hard to tell where the author is trying to take the story. The different stories converge in the end in a somewhat surprising ending, yet, like the the beginning and middle parts, it feels rushed and under-developed.
The Golem and the Jinni is the first novel I read in 2014. Not my ideal way to start my reading year, but I guess I could have chosen a worse novel to read. The novel wasn’t bad really – I just feel that it could have been better had the author taken a little more time in creating and describing her world and characters. Though the plot seems simple at first, there really is a lot going on in this novel, but I feel like the author rushed through the novel trying to bring all the elements of the story together, but in the process failed to really bring it and its characters to life.
The Golem and the Jinni (2013) – Helene Wecker
Harper; 729 pages
Personal rating: 2.5/5