The Golem story addresses our post-Holocaust fear of insecurity, our Zionist admiration of and guilt about strength, and our 21st-century obsession with technology and the ways it can go awry.
The Golem in this novel is created in Eastern Europe by an evil Jewish sorcerer named Yehudah Schaalman, who makes her to be a bride for a lovelorn Jew on his way to America. On the crossing over, the husband-to-be uses a magic incantation to awaken his Golem-bride and then promptly dies of appendicitis. This leaves the Golem—who will eventually be given the name Chava—in a peculiarly American position: Intended to live as a servant in a hierarchical, traditional society, she is now a free agent, with no man to serve and nothing to guide her actions.
This gift, plus her supernatural strength, allow her to make her way in New York.
But like Clark Kent or Peter Parker, Chava is a superhero in civilian clothing who must never allow the world to guess what she is really capable of. Luckily, she meets a kindly old rabbi, Avram Meyer, who figures out her secret and takes her in:. Confusion furrowed his brow—and then he laughed, without mirth.
This bit of dialogue is representative—smooth and portentous, it sounds like it comes from a movie, and The Golem and the Jinni as a whole reads like a movie in prose. The real emphasis is on the plot, which gets plottier as it goes along, until by the end of the book it explodes into a series of chase scenes and one-on-one combats.
The Golem and The Djinni Helene Wecker
Chava is Jewish, female, and made of earth. The Jinni—who is given the name Ahmad by his gentle human protector—is in every way her complement: Arab, male, and made of fire. He comes to America, naturally, in a magic lamp, and gets accidentally let loose by the metalsmith who is trying to repair it. Arbeely introduces Ahmad to the community as his apprentice, and the Jinni—whose superpowers including the ability to control fire and heat metal with a touch—becomes known for his fine metalwork.
Meet the Golem & the Jinni
Continue reading: When Harry Met Sally. But, even more than the Golem, the Jinni is unhappy with his new American life. He is an ancient fire-spirit who was trapped in human form by another evil sorcerer, who bound him by means of an iron cuff. Inevitably, the Golem and the Jinni meet one night on the street, and each is automatically able to recognize the other. They form a partnership—neither romantic nor crime-fighting, as one might expect, but a sort of supernatural landsmanshaft , helping one another acclimate to their new lives.
Star Tribune. Publishers Weekly. March 11, The Washington Post.
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Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. February 25, Retrieved June 4, November 9, Archived from the original on November 10, Retrieved March 6, Mythopoeic Society.
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Retrieved Audio Publishers Association. Retrieved June 6, The djinni is something different; he is far more aware of being different and considers himself above humans. He has an uneasy partnership with the man who frees him from the ubiquitous lamp and the only human he really connects with is Matthew, one of the neighbourhood boys. Ahmad is a curious mixture of arrogant fire spirit and empathetic victim and the only one he can really be himself with is Chava.
In the crowded anthill that is New York these two lonely souls find each other and of this meeting grows a fascinating friendship. Wecker spends a lot of time filling out the history of several secondary characters, which was disorienting at first, but started to make sense after the second such seeming digression. In the end, these digressions enrich the novel and create an extra layer of depth to the narrative.
They did do some weird things to the pacing of the novel, mostly giving it a rather slow build-up, but it smoothed out in the latter half of the book. The atmospheres of the Jewish neighbourhood and Little Syria were stunningly created. Wecker manages to drop in details without seemingly trying to show off all her research. I loved the Radzin bakery, where Chava works, and the coffee shop in Little Syria owned by Maryam Faddoul and her husband.
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