Every so often a book comes along that manages to be both wonderfully mystical yet still grounded in realism and humanity. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker is a book that melds worlds, cultures and literary genres seamlessly. The setting of the novel, New York City in 1899, is a prefect locale to tell a story that deals with a multicultural and magical events. The story revolves around two magical creatures from different cultures as they learn to live transplanted into a city packed with danger.
The Golem and the Jinni is a book that refuses to be easily classified. On the surface the story is a historical fiction and fantasy novel, but there is more to it than that. It’s certainly a fantasy novel, dealing with a Golem, created out of clay to be the perfect wife for a Jewish immigrant and a Jinni, trapped for centuries and unknowingly transported to America by a Syrian family, the novel is also deals with history, religion and culture in a strong and realistic way that lands the story firmly in the literary fiction tradition.
Wecker creates two characters, Ahmad and Chava that allow the reader to see turn of the century New York City through eyes that are innocent, curious and questioning. She deftly moves between several different cultures and paints an amazing picture of the diversity, chaos and opportunity in the city that, like Ahmad and Chava, never sleeps.
Wecker’s novel deals with sensitive, controversial topics but never feels bogged down or preachy. Her characters often exist as observers in situations, free from prejudice or judgment. The Golem and the Jinni is Wecker’s debut novel, but she deftly handles humanity with maturity and skill that make her an exciting author to watch for in the future.
I highly recommend The Golem and The Jinni to fans of historical fiction, Americana and fantasy. You will not be disappointed.