Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Golem and The Jinni

Title:  The Golem and The Jinni
Author:  Helene Wecker
Publication Information:  Harper. 2013. 496 pages.
ISBN:  0062110837 / 978-0062110831

Book Source:  I read this book as a selection for my local book club.

Opening Sentence:  "The Golem's life began in the hold of a steamship."

Favorite Quote:  "If the act of love is so dangerous, why do people risk so much for it? ... If you had to guess, what would you say? ... It excites them to be dangerous, and to have a secret from the rest of the world. ... That's one aspect of it, but not the whole ... What you are missing is loneliness. 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."

Chava is a golem. Ahmed is a jinni. She is newly created and brought to life. His life reaches back centuries. She is of the earth. He is fire. She seeks a master. He seeks freedom. This is their story.

The golem and the jinni are characters of mythology with a history in two religious traditions. In Jewish storytelling, the golem is created from clay and given life.  In Islamic tradition, the djinn are supernatural beings created from fire; the stories of these beings have been modernized and anglicized in the jinni or the genies. Think Aladdin.

In this book, the golem and the jinni are more alike than different. They are both outsiders. As far as they both know, they are the only one of their kind. They both find themselves in 1800s New York, a place and time where they do not seem to belong. Both are forced to hide their true selves in order to survive in society. Both find acceptance in each other, for they can reveal their actual nature.

Within this structure, this book can be read at so many different levels and following so many different themes.

Fantasy - The book of course is a fantasy novel. It has in fact won awards for fantasy writing. It is a story of mythological beings coexisting with and interacting with the human world. From the deserts of Syria to the bowels of New York, this is a story about good guys and bad guys and the struggle between good and evil.

Love Story - This book about two "people" who against all odds find each other and, despite their differences, find acceptance and friendship.  Like any story of friendship and love, the relationship has its ups and downs, and the question remains as to whether the love can survive the hardships in its way.

Immigrant Experience - Both the golem and the jinni find themselves strangers in a strange land. Surrounding them are vivid descriptions of the Jewish and Syrian immigrant communities of New York. Although America is the melting pot, each community maintains a separation and its own unique identity.

Misfits & Outsiders - Both the golem and the jinni are trying to fit in with only limited success because fitting in means denying a part of who they really are.

Common Ground - The golem and the jinni find that they are more alike than different. The fact that these characters originate in traditions that are often found on opposite sides of conflicts in the real world perhaps indicates a bigger message to be found. Maybe, all of us are really more alike than different. If we can look past surface differences, we will find a common grounds of shared values and desires.

The book itself is character driven rather than plot driven. As such, the pace of the book, especially the first half, is slow. I find myself submerged in the descriptions but, at the same time, wishing the story would move on. Despite the pace, the concept and the writing of this book leave me thinking and will stay with me for a long time. I have read that Helene Wecker has a sequel in progress; I look forward to seeing what that brings.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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