Title: The Golem and the Djinni
Author: Helene Wecker
Genre: Historical/fantasy/magical realism
Date Read: 21/10/2015 – 10/11/2015
This was a really beautiful book, though it took me a while to get into it. It didn’t help that I was pressed for time over the first two weeks that I was trying to read it, so I was reading in small drips and drabs. I nearly returned it to the library unfinished, but something stopped me. I read the last 300 pages over two days and got all emotionally invested and suddenly I didn’t want the book to end.
The book is about Chava, a master-less Golem, and Ahmed, an Djinni imprisoned in human form, both of whom arrive in New York in 1899. When they meet, they form a fragile friendship that is threatened when a chain of events nearly leads to their true identities being revealed. It takes all they can give to rebuild what they had and discover their true identities and destiny in a strange new world.
The two titular characters do not meet until page 176 of this book; the time before that is build crafting a solid picture of turn-of-the-century New York, as well as establishing how fish-out-of-water these two characters are in their separate worlds. Even when they do meet, the pacing is quite slow, and I think this is why I was getting bored when I was only reading short bits at a time. There were times when I was thinking “Is this flashback relevant?” or “Why are we spending so much time with this supporting character?” but all of it was drawn together beautifully at the end. I had a lot of “Oohhhhhh!” moments when I suddenly made connections between certain characters or events.
I loved Chava from the moment I met her. She was rendered master-less almost as soon as she was awakened, and she was scared and vulnerable, but learned to make do. Ahmed had to grow on me; it wasn’t really until he met Chava that he mellowed a bit into someone more likable. There is an interesting villain, whose identity I won’t spoil, though it’ll become obvious soon after you start reading. He’s the one I had the most “Oh!” moments about. There are a lot of great side-characters as well, such as Rabbi Avram Meyer, who recognises Chava for what she is and takes her under his wing, the Rabbi’s athiest nephew, Michael, and Boutros Arbeely, who takes Ahmed on as an apprentice metal-worker. The descriptions of both the Jewish and Syrian communities are vivid, and you feel like you know the people in both of them.
Once I finished this book, I had to just sit for a while and ponder it. I wanted to talk to someone about it, but I don’t actually know anyone else who has read it. It is definitely a wonderful book, but I do recommend you save it for a day when you can sit and read it it one sitting.